ST. LOUIS – Albert Pujols is back in St. Louis, almost eight years after celebrating a World Series crown in the city, made him famous.
Hall of Fame-bound slugger has achieved a lot in his time with the Los Angeles Angels with whom he signed after 11 star seasons with the cardinals. He has had three 30-homer seasons. He has run for 100 or more races four times. He has reached historic career milestones – 3,000 hits, 500 and 600 homers, 2,000 RBIs. But he had never been back to Busch Stadium.
It was until Friday when Pujols & Angels began their first interleague series in St. Louis since he left. It was a loving party from the moment he stepped onto the court until the moment he left the game.
"Just pretty amazing," Pujols said. "It will show you why they are the best fans in baseball. I'm just happy to play here for 1
In his first bat, the ovation lasted 1 minute and 20 seconds, and Pujols tipped his helmet to the audience, pointing to the cardinals' dugout and cram catch Yadier Molina, one of his best friends and one of two reluctant teammates from his St . Louis-days.
"I was pretty close to losing a few tears there, I think, especially when I chopped Yadi," Pujols said. "We had that little moment for us right there."
The stove could have lasted even longer if Michael Wacha had not thrown his first pitch to Pujols. At-bat ended with Pujols, flying to the midfield, a blast that brought the audience to their feet, only to end in a mass suction when the ball entered the glove of Harrison Bader.
Pujols got a standing ovation as he stretched to the plate in all three of his plates. During his second trip, the audience broke into a song by "Albert! Albert!" On his third bat, the 39-year-old got a standing ovation when he came to the plate and after he had posted an infield single.
With Pujols at second base in the seventh representing the tie race, Angel's manager Brad Ausmus was removed to a knife race. The movement was made for strategic reasons, but it gave Busch Stadium faithful, many of which had replicas of Pujol's old No. 5 Cardinals jersey, one last chance to burn him with worship.
"Not at all [surprised]," Ausmus said. "I expected it. I've seen here many times and I've seen how cardinal fans react to even visiting players. I fully expected to happen."
The only bad part of it for Pujols was the final result: St. Louis won 5-1 before announcing the audience at 48,423 – the second largest audience in the history of Busch Stadium.
It wasn't just his first game left on the scene of his old delights playing – Pujols said before the game he hadn't been back to the park at all since he and the cardinals beat Texas Rangers 6-2 to clear title in the 2011 World Series.
"I drove past it once," Pujols said. "Because I had an event [nearby]."
Players change teams and go back to old stomping grounds every season, but this one is special, both because of Pujol's status as one of the greatest cardinals ever and because of the special connection to the city he has maintained for this day. Pujols & # 39; foundation still works in St. Louis and still owns a house in the suburbs of the city.
"It hasn't hit me yet," Pujols said before the fight. "I am absolutely sure that when I take the field … it will be [special]. I'm not really an emotional guy. But it will come to me. It comes to me now."
Thunderstorm passed through St. Louis Friday and interrupted the batting exercise, but when the Busch Stadium crew rolled up the tarp and began preparing the rainy field, early arriving fans came across the rail next to the angels' side of the court, hoping to get one glimpse of Pujols.
Meanwhile, Pujol exchanged cuddles and handshakes with many familiar faces from the old days. If anyone was still unhappy about Pujols leaving the club for a $ 240 million $ 10-year contract, you would never guess it at the stage inside the ballpark. In fact, Pujols said that he has never encountered anyone who has expressed anger over his decision in all the years since he changed teams.
"The reality is here," Pujols said of the long-awaited return. "It's just amazing. Started my career here, 11 years, the success I had here, nine playoffs, two World Series, the best fans in baseball. I use [saying] that I came here as a little boy and I left as a really strong and adult man. "
Ovation during his first bat was expected as he is a leader in batting average, homers and extra-based hits at the current Busch Stadium, the third place in St. Louis to carry that name. Although it has been eight years since he has tamed Redbirds, Pujol's number two in the franchise's history is in homers (445), RBI's (1,329) and extra-based hits (915).
Despite Cooperstown-worthy numbers, the nine trips to the off-season and the two world-series crowns, Pujols says it still comes back to the friendships he has built over the years. This is especially true of the two remaining Cardinals players from his St. Louis days, pitcher Adam Wainwright and Molina, whom Pujol has often referred to as his little brother.
"I think the best thing you build in this game is the relationship," said Pujols. "No one can take it away from you. And you play this game for 20 years or anything – hopefully you live longer than you play."
"Therefore, you build these good relationships. Therefore, it is more important to me than what I have achieved."
If anyone believed that Pujols might have damaged these relationships with his long-term decision to sign with the angels, they became proved wrong on Friday night.
"This is a great moment for me tonight, and that's something I want to put it right up there with the achievement of winning the World Series twice here," Pujols said. "Because this was a beautiful special night not just for me. For my wife, my five beautiful children also have a part of it and all my friends. This is very special. "