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Albert Pujols just needs two more home runs to put himself in one of sports’ most exclusive fraternities — the 700 home run club.
The 42-year-old blasted his 698th career home run Friday night. The blast also tied the St. Louis Cardinals’ game against the Cincinnati Reds at 4-4.
The pressure of 700 has not even come close to affecting Pujols. In fact, he has been driving in the moment.
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Entering the season, Pujols needed 21 homers to reach a feat no one has accomplished since Barry Bonds did Sept. 17, 2004. With Pujols’ subpar play in recent years (.700 OPS since 2017 and averaging 18 homers per season in that span with the Angels and Dodgers), it seemed somewhat unlikely.
But, since mid-July, he’s been one of the best hitters in baseball.
In his last 47 games, he is a .324 hitter with 15 home runs, 35 RBI, and a 1,086 OPS. With that stretch, he has raised his average from .198 to .264 and his OPS from .624 to .865.
These last several homers have also been clutch. Five of his last six home runs have either tied a game or given the Cardinals a lead. His 697th on Sunday, a two-run shot, gave the Cards a 3-2 lead in the top of the ninth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
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The Cardinals have 17 games for him to get two homers. If he keeps up his current pace since July 10 for the final homestretch, he will finish with 703 career home runs.
Where once it seemed Pujols had only an outside shot of reaching the mark, it would almost seem surprising now if he didn’t.
In his final at-bat of Friday’s game, Pujols came just feet away from 699, but it was a fly out to the warning track. It would have been a home run in 10 other stadiums.
The Cardinals won the game 6-5, and Ryan Helsley earned the save with an immaculate inning.
Pujols wasn’t the only Cardinal chasing history this year. Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina just broke the all-time MLB record for most starts by a battery. Wainwright threw the first pitch of a game to Yadi Wednesday for the 325th time in their careers.
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Pujols will retire at the end of the year, along with Molina. Wainwright hasn’t publicly announced his plans beyond this season.
When Pujols signed with the Cardinals in the offseason, it seemed like nothing more than a proper farewell tour, ending his career where it all began.