Pujols generating a bunch historical hits as he close out a remarkable baseball career.
ST. LOUIS — Back at Busch Stadium for his first Opening Day since 2011 earlier this season, Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols admitted he teared up and got extremely emotional that April afternoon, but not for the reasons many might have expected.
Opening Day is different in St. Louis because it is a time when the Cardinals franchise likes to bring all its living Hall of Famers back to Busch Stadium, dress them in bright red jackets and have them circle the field in convertibles while being cheered by the adoring fans. Pujols wasn’t in a red jacket that day, but he, too, was a legend returning to Busch Stadium for his final season — and a giddy fanbase cheered his every move.
During his historic first stint with the Cardinals, Pujols always revered Opening Day because it gave him a chance to connect with some of the true legends of the game. This time around, however, was drastically different as Pujols was hit hard by the realization that legends Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock and Red Schoendienst — four Hall of Famers he had gotten so close with years before — were no longer alive to be celebrated.
“It was pretty emotional for me on Opening Day, because I remember all those guys — Gibson, Stan, Lou and Red,” Pujols shared for the first time following the Cardinals’ 6-1 win over the Phillies on Monday at Busch Stadium. “Those were the guys who trained me, helped me and guided me. It really got a little emotional for me. I definitely miss those guys, and the legacy they left behind is pretty amazing.”
Pujols’ memories of Musial were at the forefront in his mind again on Monday when he doubled down the right-field line to pass the most accomplished player in Cardinals history with the 1,378th extra-base hit of his career. Pujols’ double allowed him to move into third place on the all-time list for extra-base hits — one spot ahead of Musial, who Pujols had tied a day earlier with a home run.
“He was probably looking down and smiling,” Pujols said of Musial. “He was probably like, ‘Once again, you did it.’ I mean, I don’t even have words to describe my feelings because of the respect that I have for Stan and his whole family, and the legacy he left behind through this organization and through myself. That means a lot to me.”
Pujols missed hitting home run No. 685 by just inches on Monday, but his blast into the right-field corner still resulted in a double. Hank Aaron (1,477 extra-base hits) and Barry Bonds (1,440) are the only players ahead of the 42-year-old Cardinals slugger. Pujols, who plans to retire at season’s end, will be at the MLB All-Star Game on July 19 as a Commissioner’s pick. He also revealed on Monday that he will compete in the Home Run Derby the night before the Midsummer Classic.
Pujols helped snap the Cardinals out of an offensive funk on Saturday when he had three hits, including the 684th home run of his career in St. Louis’ 4-3 win over the Phillies. On Monday, he led off the seventh inning by going with an outside fastball from Nola and plunking it off the top of the wall. A hustling Pujols made it into second base easily for the extra-base hit and soon after asked for the ball to be saved for his trophy case.
“It’s special when you start seeing some of the numbers come across the scoreboard, and going into the game [knowing] what he’s capable of doing if he gets another hit or an extra-base hit. Or it seems like any time a ball is in play [by Pujols], we’re asking for it,” said Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol, who went with Pujols in the starting lineup the past two days despite facing right-handed starting pitchers. “It’s remarkable. It just speaks to the type of career this guy has had. Incredibly impressive.”