ST. LOUIS — As of late Sunday night, the revised list of Major League Baseball players who have hit at least 600 home runs in their career and have pitched in a game is as follows:
Joked Pujols, not long after comically pitching the ninth inning of the Cardinals’ 15-6 rout of the Giants: “I’m pretty sure Babe Ruth didn’t give up four runs in his first inning like I did.”
The fans at Busch Stadium didn’t seem to mind one bit that Pujols — he of the 681 career home runs in his future Hall of Fame career — surrendered ninth-inning home runs to Luis González and Joey Bart. Instead, chants of “Let’s go Albert!” and “M-V-P” rang out each time the 42-year-old Pujols fired a strike or recorded an out. Ever the perfectionist, Pujols was mildly upset that he surrendered two long balls in the feel-good night for the Cardinals.
“They made me pay like I’ve been making pitchers pay for 22 years,” said Pujols, who has homered off 442 pitchers in a career that has spanned the 2000s, ’10s and the ’20s.
The downright strange set of events all started when Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol was discussing which position player would enter the game in the ninth to pitch to save the bullpen from the additional work. Pujols, who had two hits and reached base in his first five plate appearances as the DH, spoke up and volunteered to pitch. Marmol happily went along with it and the manager on the other side, San Francisco’s Gabe Kapler, loved it as well.
“I thought it was just great theater,” Kapler said. “Obviously, their fans loved it, and I’m sure their dugout was hanging on every pitch. We all had a lot of fun with it. It was the right time to kind of let go of the negative outcomes of the game and get involved in the fun of it. … You get to create a memory for people and I’m sure Albert is never going to forget that. Our hitters are never going to forget it. They got to face Albert Pujols on the mound.”
On a night when Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina made history by becoming the winningest starting battery in AL/NL history with 203 victories, it was Pujols who left with the game ball. Upon catching the throw from third baseman Brendan Donovan, rookie first baseman Juan Yepez raced over to his mentor and presented him with the game ball. Pujols said he wants to get the ball signed by the entire team and placed in a trophy case.
“Don’t worry [Pujols] … I gave up a home run in my first ever game too!” Wainwright posted on Twitter following the game. “You’ll figure it out and who knows … 17 years from now you and [catcher Andrew Knizner] might break me and yadi’s record!”
Wainwright and Molina, two of the remaining players from Pujols’ historic first stint in St. Louis from 2001-11, were glued to TV sets in the clubhouse watching the DH/first baseman pitch for the first time in his career. Asked what he thought about the pitching performance of his close friend, Molina said, “He’s got to learn to get the ball down.” And what might happen if Molina pitches later this season? “I’ll do better than him!” he said pointing in the direction of Pujols.
Of his 26 pitches, Pujols threw 16 strikes. His first pitch came in at 63.7 mph and his fastest pitch reached 66.3 mph. Not surprisingly, his final pitch of the night — one that got LaMonte Wade Jr. to ground out — was just 46.6 mph. Asked what advice he might have gotten from former Angels teammate Shohei Ohtani — the game’s most preeminent pitcher/slugger today — Pujols laughed and said, “I think if I was throwing 100 [mph] like Shohei, it would be a little bit more interesting.”