Albert Pujols hits grand slam for No. 600

By Bob Keisser, The Sports Xchange  |  June 4, 2017 at 10:17 AM
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ANAHEIM, Calif.--Albert Pujols' major league career has always been prolific. Since it began in 2001, he has been a metronome of production, making numbers such as 30 home runs, 120 RBI and a .330 average seem like an every year, occurrence.

But his historic 600th home run, coming Saturday night at Angel Stadium in a 7-2 Angels win over Minnesota, was struck with a flourish that outdid every other terrific name on the short list of nine players to reach audacious numbers like that.

With the bases loaded in the fourth inning, the Los Angeles Angels' designated hitter hit a 1-2 sinker from Ervin Santana into the left-field seats, making him the only player to hit a grand slam on No. 500, 600 or 700, a remarkable achievement considering the nine players on the list stretches back to Babe Ruth and his first home run in 1915.

It was a towering fly down the left-field line that made the crowd of 40,236 pause in anticipation -- a deep, thrilling and oh-so-human inhale -- while waiting for third base umpire Clint Fagan to declare it a fair ball and put the moment into baseball history.

The celebration by the fans was more warm than wild, too, respectful, as was that by his teammates. There was no melee at home plate. The Angels lined up to shake his hand or give him a high five, providing a proper sense of royalty for the occasion. No Gatorade dump, no talcum toss. Pujols waved to the fans once, twice, and then for a very simple final bow that included a hug and kiss for his wife, Deidre, just to the right of home plate.

"It's obviously a big number," a humble Pujols said after the game. "But I just ran the bases like I did for No. 500, thanking God for the opportunity, and to do it front of friends, family and my teammates.

"I put a little pressure on myself this week. I was swinging at pitches out of the strike zone, chasing, the first two at-bats. I'm human. I was trying to do too much. But I really wanted to make sure I went after a good pitch (that at-bat), with my teammates having gotten on base. There was a different feeling that at-bat."

Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755), Ruth (714), Alex Rodriguez (696), Willie Mays (660), Ken Griffey Jr. (630), Jim Thome (612) and Sammy Sosa (609) are the only players to have hit more home runs than Pujols.

Aaron, Ruth, Mays and Griffey are in the Hall of Fame. Of the modern-era players on the list, the presence of Bonds, Rodriguez and Sosa is obscured somewhat by their relationship with steroids. Thome makes his first appearance on a Hall of Fame ballot in 2018.

Pujols, 37, is the fourth-youngest player to reach 600, trailing Rodriguez (35), Ruth (36) and Aaron (two months younger).

"It's a special feeling to hit a grand slam, but I'm really just glad to be on the list," he said. "I look at all the players who have been in the league. Numbers are special in this game. But I don't really think about numbers. It's great for me that I did it with my second family, my teammates. As good as this is, nothing would beat the feeling of winning a championship with these guys."

Pujols noted all of the things that his teammates said to him afterward. "E.Y. (Eric Young Jr.) said he was glad to have been on base when I hit 599 and 600," Pujols said. "I've been lucky to have great teammates and coaches."

Santana, a fellow Dominican who gave up No. 600, said he was trying to regain his control after walking two hitters before Pujols came to bat. "I got a sinker a little inside," he said. "He's a great hitter. He'll hit your best pitch for a home run."

The Angels took a 3-1 lead in the third on back-to-back home runs by Andrelton Simmons, a two-run shot, and Kole Calhoun. In the fourth, Santana gave up a single to Ben Revere then walked Young and Calhoun to load the bases for Pujols with two outs.

Matt Shoemaker had his fourth strong effort in his last five outings, going 6 1/3 innings while allowing five hits, two runs, three walks and striking out five. Santana, who came in with a league-leading .140 opponents average and 1.75 ERA, had his shortest effort of the season, going four innings with seven hits, seven runs, three walks and three home runs. He had allowed only eight homers all season.

Max Kepler drove in both Twin runs with an RBI single in the first and home run in the seventh.

NOTES: Scott Steffel, a 23-year-old from Costa Mesa and a graphic design major at Cal State Fullerton, caught Pujols' historic home run in left field and gave it to Pujols on the field after the game. "All I wanted was to hand it to him. It's his ball, his moment," said Steffel. He attended the game with his dad and brother and estimated that he's been to several hundred Angel games in his life, including the 2002 World Series. ... Angels CF Mike Trout spoke to the media Saturday for the first time since his surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb suffered last week while sliding head-first into second base. He said he still plans to slide head first even after the injury. "I'm still going to play the same way," he said. "I always slide head first. I just think I have to have more control when I (do). They say (feet first) doesn't slow you down, but it feels like it does." ... Angels RHP Huston Street suffered soreness after back-to-back throwing sessions and his progress toward returning to the team has been put on hold. ... RHP Cam Bedrosian was sent on a second rehab assignment to Class A Inland Empire and hopes to return to the Angels bullpen next week. ... 1B C.J. Cron was recalled from Triple-A Salt Lake on Saturday, replacing 1B-3B Jefry Marte, who was optioned to Salt Lake. The Angels also recalled RHP Damien Magnifico and optioned RHP Deolis Guerra.

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