Until Albert Pujols destroyed an Andrew Heaney fastball for his career’s No. 699 home run in the third inning on Friday, the Dodgers felt nothing but affection for their former teammate.
“Tie! We love you and see you soon, especially on the golf course,” Justin Turner said during a video tribute to Pujols at Dodger Stadium before the game.
Until Pujols crushed a Phil Bickford slider for the No. 700 home run in the fourth inning of an 11-0 St. Louis Cardinals win, the Dodgers were fascinated by his inscrutable chase to perhaps join Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth most exclusive club in baseball history.
“You’re an incredible human being off the field,” gushed Mike Muncy during the same tribute, before joining Turner in presenting shiny new golf bags to Pujols and Yadier Molina in a pre-game ceremony.
As Pujols cried while circling the bases while the crowd of 50,041 stood and howled in appreciation as Pujols high-fived former Dodger Adrian Beltre in the front row after crossing the plate, became Dodgers players and managers Dave Roberts overcome by a countercurrent of emotions.
“I was very upset about the execution we had tonight, but sometimes you have to step back and realize it’s not always about one person,” Roberts said. “In this particular case it’s certainly bigger than all of us and for the sport so I think if we’re not pitching then I’m glad it was Albert.”
Heaney, a teammate of Pujols in the 2015-21 Angels, was immediately dismayed that the two-hit fastball that Pujols hurled into the stands in left field was waist-deep over center of the plate, rather than over the as intended strike zone .
“My reaction came as it left my hand,” he said. “I knew that [expletive] went right in the middle and that’s not good for him, so he did really well.
Did he ultimately appreciate Pujols’ performance?
“When I retire, it gets a little cooler for me,” Heaney said. “Right now it’s a sore point. I’ll probably appreciate it more in the coming days but I’m really happy for him. I have his 3,000. Seen a hit, his 600th [home run]She’s seen him do a lot of cool stuff.”
Bickford, who valued Pujols as a mentor last season as a Dodgers rookie, was hit with a wave of conflicting thoughts as Pujols rounded bases to a standing ovation. He bent behind the mound, picked up the rosin bag and dropped it, then soaked it all in. What else could he do?
“At first I was upset that I gave up the home run, but when the crowd reacted and I saw all the smiles, it was a very special moment for MLB,” he said. “Albert Pujols is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met and yes, after being upset about giving up the home run, that was a special moment.”
Bickford recalled the second half of last season when Pujols wore a Dodgers uniform and gave out hugs like candy bars.
“He’s the nicest guy ever,” he said. “He’s a big old teddy bear, someone you only have good things to say about. He is a very friendly person.”
But one with a sense of humour. When asked what he would say to Bickford if their paths crossed on Saturday, Pujols laughed and said, “I’m going to say, ‘Thanks for the hanging slider.'”
The Dodger who got close enough to hug Pujols both times he touched home plate was Dodgers catcher Will Smith, who said last year he idolized Pujols as a boy whose career began in 2001 when Smith was 6 was years old.
But Smith didn’t hug Pujols after the home runs. Of course not. He had called the pitches. He wasn’t happy. Still, of course, he was kind of happy.
“As a kid, it was cool to be in that moment, but as a competitor, I wanted to get him out,” Smith said. “I want to beat him no matter who we play.
“It was cool to see that in a weird way, but unfortunately they got us.”
The Dodgers have won 104 games this season. You will win more. Friday was the weirdest night of the season, getting berated by the Cardinals and standing on the wrong side of history with Pujols, a man they love dearly.
As the swirling emotions settled, the Dodgers realized they’d seen rare greatness and weren’t ashamed to admit it.
“I don’t think people – whether you’re not a player or haven’t played – realize how hard it is to be consistent over two decades,” Roberts said. “There are people who have a good season or a good couple of seasons or a couple of good seasons but to be able to take care of your body and have the drive year after year to put you in that elite class – I wear it I don’t think even the elite live up to that – I can’t even imagine it, to be perfectly honest.”
https://www.latimes.com/sports/dodgers/story/2022-09-24/dodgers-react-albert-pujols-700th-home-run-awe-anger Dodgers react to Albert Pujols’ 700th home run with awe, anger