ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) – Albert Pujols hit his 600th career homer on Saturday night, delivering a grand slam to become the ninth player in major league history to reach the mark.
The Los Angeles Angels slugger connected in the fourth inning against Minnesota’s Ervin Santana, driving a high fly into the short left-field porch at Angel Stadium.
The milestone homer is the latest superlative in the 17-year career of Pujols, a 13th-round draft pick who became one of the greatest hitters of his generation.
The 37-year-old Pujols is the fourth-youngest player to hit 600 homers behind Alex Rodriguez, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth. Pujols joins home run kings Barry Bonds and Aaron as the only players to hit 600 homers and 600 doubles.
The Dominican veteran is the first player to hit his 600th homer since Jim Thome in August 2011. With his ninth homer this season, Pujols has joined the club with Bonds (762), Aaron (755), Ruth (714), Rodriguez (696), Willie Mays (660), Ken Griffey Jr. (630), Thome (612) and Sammy Sosa (609).
Pujols also became the first player to hit a grand slam for No. 600.
He put a long, looping swing on the struggling Santana’s low pitch, and he briefly stood at the plate to see whether the ball would stay fair. When it did, he rounded the bases to a fusillade of fireworks before greeting his excited teammates at home plate.
“I don’t play here for numbers,” Pujols said this week after hitting No. 599. “My goal since Day 1 when I got to the big leagues was to help the organization that I wear the uniform of. At the end of my career, numbers are numbers. I think I’m going to have plenty of time, but my main goal is to try to win a championship here.
“I’m aware of the history, don’t get me wrong. I respect it, but I think that’s kind of a distraction that I don’t want to bring into the game for me.”
Pujols hit his 599th homer on Tuesday and then went through three straight homerless games. The slugger rarely acknowledges the importance of individual accomplishments, but his fellow Angels thought he clearly wanted to reach the milestone at home before they hit the road Monday.
The Angels were excited, too: Mike Trout went to the ballpark right after having thumb surgery Wednesday because he wanted to see Pujols make history – and Trout has returned every night since, his hand in a cast.
“It’s pretty incredible,” Trout said. “Each night he gets a hit or gets an RBI, he’s passing somebody. (On Thursday) he passed Babe Ruth in hits. I think that’s pretty special. It’s remarkable, his career so far. He’s got a lot of baseball left, but I think the biggest thing is 600. That’s special.”
Pujols is in his sixth year with the Angels after beginning his career with 11 spectacular seasons in St. Louis. He became the youngest player to hit 250 homers and the first to hit 400 homers in his first 10 big-league seasons while with the Cardinals, and he is the only player ever to hit at least 30 homers in his first 12 big-league seasons.
The three-time NL MVP has slowed in numerous ways since joining the Angels, who haven’t won a playoff game since giving him a $240 million free-agent contract in December 2011. Pujols doesn’t round the bases or play the field with his youthful vigor, but he still delivers solid pop at the plate as one of the majors’ top RBI producers.
Pujols has homered in 37 ballparks and against all 30 big-league teams, including the Cardinals. Santana is one of 386 pitchers to yield a homer to Pujols.
Pujols is the majors’ active leader in homers by a long shot, and the 600-homer club might not get its next member for several years. Detroit’s 34-year-old Miguel Cabrera has 451 career homers, and the next-closest player under 34 years old is Milwaukee’s 33-year-old Ryan Braun with 292.
“What Albert is about to do, it’s legendary,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said before Friday’s game. “To be able to witness it is something special. You look around baseball, and the guys that have reached that plateau are few and far between, to say the least. It’s such a special journey. It doesn’t happen very often.”
Pujols has hit 155 homers in nearly 5 1/2 seasons with the Angels, dropping well off the incredible pace established when he hit 445 homers in his 11 seasons with St. Louis. He hit at least 40 homers in six seasons with the Cardinals, but has done it only once for Los Angeles.
Although he has made just one All-Star team with the Angels, Pujols has been a consistent offensive threat in Orange County when healthy, racking up 119 RBIs last season and ranking third in the AL with 38 RBIs entering Friday’s games. Injuries and age have forced the Angels to use the formerly above-average fielder largely as a designated hitter: He played only 28 games at first base last season and just four this year.
“This guy is probably the toughest ballplayer I’ve ever seen,” Scioscia said. “To be able to go out there at maybe 50 percent and still be productive, what he means to the team in the dugout, in the clubhouse, you can see why he’s been a winner his whole career.”
Pujols made nine All-Star teams for St. Louis and won three MVP awards, two NL home run titles and the 2003 batting crown. More importantly to Pujols, the Cardinals won the World Series in 2006 and 2011, and he capped that second championship run in style with three homers in Game 3 of St. Louis’ seven-game victory over Texas.
Pujols then hit free agency for the first time in his career, and Angels owner Arte Moreno shocked the sport by offering one of the biggest contracts in baseball history to entice the slugger to uproot his family from St. Louis.
The contract set near-impossible expectations for everyone involved – and by his own admission, Pujols hasn’t achieved his goals in Anaheim. Since Pujols arrived and Trout concurrently became a star, the Angels have made only one playoff appearance.
Yet the Angels are still optimistic about their future around Pujols and Trout, who is sidelined for six weeks with his injury. Trout was grateful to be in attendance for No. 600, and he expects to see No. 700 as well.
“Oh, yeah, for sure,” Trout said. “I wouldn’t put nothing past Albert. He comes in, plays hard. He’s a competitor, a great teammate and a great person off the field. He’ll do anything for you.”
More AP baseball coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball