Pujols makes history with two home runs against Nationals
By Mike DiGiovanna
WASHINGTON -- It was a majestic blast, exploding off the bat as if shot from a cannon, and as the ball arced its way toward the outer reaches of Nationals Park, it looked like it might put a dent in the Capitol dome beyond the left-field wall.
Albert Pujols doesn't hit many cheap home runs, and there was no doubt the shot the Angels slugger launched in the fifth inning of Tuesday night's 7-2 win over the Washington Nationals would make history.
Roughly18,000 men have played major league baseball since 1876, and only 26 of them have hit 500 home runs.
Pujols hammered his way into that exclusive club Tuesday when he crushed career home run No. 500, a two-run shot off Nationals right-hander Taylor Jordan that traveled an estimated 430 feet and over the Angels bullpen.
"It was a really good swing, a fastball, middle up, probably the best swing I have taken this year," said Pujols, who hit his 499th homer in the first inning, a three-run, 387-foot shot to left. "It came at a good time."
Pujols rounded the bases after his milestone homer with a huge grin, pointed to the sky as he rounded third and clapped his hands twice as he approached the plate. The Angels poured out of the dugout to greet him with hugs and high-fives, and he received a brief standing ovation from a crowd of 21,915.
Pujols, 34, is the first player to collect his 499th and 500th homers in the same game. He is the third-youngest player to reach 500 homers, behind Alex Rodriguez and Jimmie Fox, and the 10th to do so in the last 15 years.
"It's a pretty special moment _ you don't see 500 homers every night, and to be one of only 26 players to do this, it's really special," said Pujols, who also hit his 400th homer in Nationals Park. "It's been a great career. The last couple of years have been really tough, but I feel I'm getting my swing right where I want to be."
Mike Trout, who singled to lead off the fifth, practically floated around the bases on Pujols' homer.
"As soon as he hit it, I knew it was gone," Trout, said. "It's just an unbelievable feeling. I'm getting chills thinking about it now. I was speechless. History was made in front of my eyes. Watching him on TV hit so many homers, and being part of 500 ... hopefully, I'm part of 600 too. It's pretty cool."
Babe Ruth would be proud of the newest member of the 500 club -- Pujols actually called his shots. After going hitless in five at-bats Monday, Pujols felt so good in the batting cage Tuesday that he "shared with a couple of guys that I had a feeling it was going to be a special day," he said.
Erick Aybar said Pujols was a little more specific.
"He said he was going to hit two home runs and drive in five runs and that today was his day," Aybar said. And did Aybar believe him? "Heck yeah," he said. "Everyone believes Albert."
If only Pujols' wife and five kids could have shared the moment with him. Deidre Pujols was scheduled to join Albert in New York this weekend, but Pujols told her if he hit homer No. 499 against the Nationals, she should board a flight for Washington. But she couldn't have gotten here in four innings.
"You guys are going to laugh at me, but when I scored, I went in and called her and she was doing her nails," Pujols said. "Everyone was telling her, 'Congratulations,' and she was like, 'Did you just hit 500?' And I was like, 'Sorry.' "
With 22 more homers, a number within reach this season, Pujols, in the third year of a 10-year, $240-million deal, will pass eight players -- Eddie Murray (504), Gary Sheffield (509), Mel Ott (511), Eddie Matthews and Ernie Banks (512) and Ted Williams, Frank Thomas and Willie McCovey (521) -- on baseball's all-time list.
"He's got a lot of baseball left," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "I don't know if there are many players who work as hard as Albert does in the off-season to get where they need to be. I look for him, when it's all said and done, to be one of those handful of players you're in awe of."
Pujols' first 455 homers came in 11 seasons in St. Louis, a team he won three National League most-valuable-player awards for and led to two World Series titles.
He hit .285 with 30 homers and 105 runs batted in for the Angels in 2012, but he was slowed in 2013 by a painful left-heel injury, hitting .258 with 17 homers and 64 RBIs before suffering a season-ending tear of the plantar fascia in late July.
Pujols has regained his health and power stroke in 2014 _ he leads the major leagues with eight homers through 20 games and has a team-high 19 RBIs.
"Being a kid in high school and watching him play, it's amazing to think years down the road I'd be able to witness such a special time in history, wearing the same jersey," said Angels third baseman David Freese, a St. Louis native and former Cardinals teammate of Pujols. "I was here for 400 and here for 500. Hopefully, I'll be around for 600."
Pujols, though, is not chasing numbers. "My goal is to help my organization win a championship," he said. That was clear after the game, when the Angels gathered to celebrate Pujols' achievement.
"I had a little speech and told them this was a great moment to share with them," Pujols said. "But it will be an even better moment to raise a championship trophy with them, because that's what we play for."