At 39, Albert Pujols is in the twilight of a great career. But the competitive fire still burns brightly.
The three-time MVP added to his Hall of Fame resume Thursday with a sixth-inning home run against Ryan Carpenter. But that wasn’t his big story of the night.
The third-inning shot not only ended a rare 0-for-15 skid for the slugger but pushed him into the rare air of 2,000 runs batted in. That the Angels beat the Tigers, 13-0, was merely an afterthought.
“To me, it’s unbelievable,” Angels manager Brad Ausmus told writers after the Comerica Park game. “I know in this day and age people say RBIs are a product of opportunity. But guys like Albert drive people in from first, and he’s driven himself in over 600 times, so it’s extremely special.”
According to Major League Baseball, only Hank Aaron and Alex Rodriguez reached the 2,000 RBI plateau previously, since Babe Ruth and Cap Anson collected chunks of their runs batted in before it became an official statistic in 1920. That’s still pretty elite company – especially since the next closest competitor, Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera, is years away with 1,649.
The Pujols home run, a no-doubter that went 415 feet, came on a hanging fastball. “I knew as soon as I hit it, I knew it was gonna go out of the ballpark,” he said in the clubhouse later.
Pujols paused at the plate to watch his majestic drive disappear into the Detroit night. Even Mike Trout admired the achievement of his teammate.
“It’s obviously a huge accomplishment for him,” Trout said. “I’m fortunate to be a part of it. I don’t think I’ll ever see it again in my lifetime.”
Prior to the home run, Pujols had been hitless since May 4. But he could be warming with the weather. The Dominican first baseman has plenty of incentive: he trails Willie Mays, fifth on the career list, by just 21 home runs – a total he’ll reach this season as his batting average rises.
The Dominican slugger, who broke into the big leagues with the Cardinals in 2001 but joined the Angels in 2012, hit 28 homers last season but is struggling at a .208 clip now. Although age could be catching up to him, his resume suggests otherwise.
In addition to his three MVP trophies, all earned with the St. Louis Cardinals, his trophy shelf includes a Rookie of the Year award, two Gold Gloves, two World Series rings, a batting crown, and 10 All-Star invitations. He was runner-up in the MVP voting three times.
“Everything that I have accomplished is special to me,” Pujols told a crowd of writers in the visiting clubhouse Thursday. “I don’t think one counts better than others. I think they’re all great. I think the best thing is you do it and you help your team win. We ended up winning the series today, and that’s more special.”
Pujols has played in three World Series, winning in 2006 and 2011 but losing in 2004. With the Houston Astros dominating his division, he may never reach the Fall Classic again.
But there’s no doubt that Cooperstown will be his final destination.
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