Albert Pujols punctuated a magical final season with his 700th career home run Friday night, a shot that made him just the fourth major league player in history to reach the milestone.
Pujols, 42, rejoined the team with which he made a name for himself, the St. Louis Cardinals, on a one-year deal this spring. At the time, he had 679 homers. He had surpassed 21 in a season only once since 2018. By the time MLB named him an all-star to commemorate his stellar career, he had just 683 homers — far enough away that it seemed he would need a stunning revival to make it close. He entered Friday hitting .310 with a 1.022 on-base-plus-slugging percentage since.
Pujols didn’t need 700 homers to be a surefire Hall of Famer, though he is in the smallest of upper echelons now. Only Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth have more home runs to their name than Pujols. Bonds’s numbers are considered tainted by some, his legacy controversial enough to keep him out of the Hall of Fame.
Only nine players have more hits than Pujols. All of them, with the complicated exception of Pete Rose, are in Cooperstown. Only two players, Ruth and Aaron, have driven in more runs. He is the most prolific Dominican hitter in baseball history and the first to cross the 700-homer threshold.
Pujols’s push comes in what was already an emotional season for the Cardinals. Longtime catcher Yadier Molina announced this would be his final season, meaning he and starter Adam Wainwright also would be chasing history together. In September, they made their 325th start together, a record that will not be broken anytime soon.
While Wainwright has said he could continue pitching after this season, Cardinals fans have treasured this season as “one last ride” with the three staples of their title-winning 2006 and 2011 squads. Wainwright and Molina stayed in St. Louis their whole careers. Pujols, meanwhile, departed for a 10-year sabbatical in Anaheim — a stint that was not quite as productive as his early Cardinals years.
He made the all-star team nine times in his first stint with the Cardinals and just once as a member of the Angels. He hit 40 homers six times as a member of the Cardinals and just once as a member of the Angels. But whatever might have been in St. Louis probably would have taken more out of Pujols than what did happen in Anaheim. Until this season, Pujols would not have been able to serve as the designated hitter as regularly with a National League team. Who knows how wear and tear and the struggle to keep him at first base might have affected his ability to stay in the game until this season. However winding his path back to Busch Stadium may have been, he made it all the same.
And that path will give him one more chance at a title. The Cardinals entered Friday in control of the National League Central, likely to host one of four inaugural wild-card series in the first week of October. The three-time MVP has 19 postseason homers in his career, none of which count toward that 700 total. But he doesn’t need anything extra now. The final push is over. He left no room for doubt.