Tahlequah Daily Press

Sports

April 23, 2014

Pujols hits 500th home run as Angels beat Washington

WASHINGTON — Albert Pujols smiled as he explained why he felt the need to apologize to his wife for hitting homer No. 500 so quickly after No. 499.

She had planned to be there in person once he got within one of the milestone.

He didn't give her the chance.

Pujols became the first major leaguer to get his 499th and 500th homers in the same game, connecting twice Tuesday night and driving in five runs in the Los Angeles Angels' 7-2 victory over the Washington Nationals. He's the 26th player in big league history to reach 500.

"I went and made a phone call and I called her, and she was doing her nails. And everybody in the salon, I guess, was telling her, 'Congratulations!' And she was like, 'Did you just hit your 500th?' I was like, 'I'm sorry,'" Pujols said with a laugh.

"She would have loved to be here with my kids and my family. She drives me every day to try to be a better person, a better player," he added. "I would have loved to share this moment with her here."

Hitting like the Pujols of old, the three-time NL MVP delivered a three-run homer in the first inning and two-run drive in the fifth, both off Taylor Jordan (0-3).

"I knew this year, it was going to happen, whether it was tonight, tomorrow, two months from now," Pujols said.

He also hit his 400th homer at Nationals Park.

"I admire his ability and the way he goes about playing the game, and I have for some time," said Washington manager Matt Williams, who played against Pujols. "I just wish he'd do it against somebody else."

About three months past his 34th birthday, Pujols is the third-youngest to get to 500; Alex Rodriguez and Jimmie Foxx were 32.

Pujols has eight homers in the past 13 games and leads the Angels with 19 RBIs.

"That's the Albert I'm used to seeing," Angels outfielder Mike Trout said.

The 500th homer went to left-center field on an 89 mph pitch with the count at 1-2. The ball was grabbed — and later given to Pujols — by a man who identified himself as Thomas Sherrill, a 29-year-old Air Force staff sergeant from Pomona, Calif.

"That pitch was supposed to be low and away," Jordan said, "and I guess I tried too hard to get it there."

Pujols clapped his white batting gloves together a few strides before reaching home, then pointed both index fingers to the sky. Fans gave Pujols a partial standing ovation, and he tipped his red batting helmet as he approached the dugout. After heading down the steps, he came back out for a curtain call.

"That's something you tell your kids when you get older. I don't know the next guy who's going to hit 500," said Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs (2-0). "Nobody knows how to react. You don't see it too much."

Teammates said Pujols told shortstop Erick Aybar before the game he was going to hit two homers.

"Albert's Albert. If he tells you something, he's going to do it," Trout said. "I'm not surprised he said that, because I've seen it before."

After a couple of down-for-him years with the Angels following 11 transcendent seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, Pujols appears ready to reclaim his spot among the game's elite hitters. He homered Friday and Saturday at Detroit to lift his total to 498, and now he's reached the round number of 500 — a total that remains hallowed despite losing luster lately because so many players surpassed it.

Of the 26 members of the 500-homer club, 11 reached the mark in the last 15 years, according to STATS. Gary Sheffield was the previous player to do it, hitting No. 500 in April 2009.

"You don't see 500, obviously, every night," Pujols said. "It's been a great career."

The Cardinals selected him in the 13th round of the 1999 draft, and Pujols won a batting title in 2003, NL MVP awards in 2005, 2008 and 2009, and World Series titles with the Cardinals in 2006 and 2011. Pujols was the first player to hit 30 homers in each of his first 12 seasons and the second — after Al Simmons in 1924-34 — to reach 100 RBIs in each of his first 10.

A nine-time All-Star, Pujols hit 455 homers with the Cardinals.

"I'm so excited for him. He's a great friend of mine and a great teammate of mine over the years," Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright said. "Nobody deserves it more than he does, 'cause he works so hard."

After his decade-plus of excellence in St. Louis, Pujols signed a 10-year deal worth $240 million with the Angels following the 2011 season. Almost immediately, the 6-foot-3 slugger appeared to be slowing down. He hit .285 with 30 homers in 2012 — impressive numbers for most players, but career lows at that point for Pujols.

Things got worse in 2013. Injuries limited Pujols to 99 games and he hit .258 with 17 homers and 64 RBIs.

But not surprisingly, Pujols' bat did not stay quiet for long.

Sitting at a news conference with the balls he hit over the fence Tuesday resting near his left elbow, Pujols smiled as he said: "Now we've got to start on the next milestone, I guess."

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