Albert Pujols' 11th-hour power surge continued on Friday with the 698th home run of his career, putting him two long balls away from becoming the fourth person to enter the 700 club.
The home run is Pujols' 19th of the season and 12th since Aug. 10. What once felt impossible is now firmly within Pujols' grasp, as the Cardinals have 17 games left for him to reach the milestone after Friday.
Albert Pujols climbing toward 700-homer club
The year Pujols debuted in MLB, Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs on his way to summiting MLB's career homer leaderboard. Over the next 22 seasons, Pujols has steadily ascended the list without ever slugging even 50 in a season. In his later years with the Los Angeles Angels, the pace slowed, but he still hit major milestones — passing Ken Griffey Jr. in 2018 and Willie Mays in 2020 with a two-blast flourish.
He found a second wind, or perhaps just better usage, when he left the Angels and joined the Dodgers last year, one that has continued with his original club in 2022. His 29 homers since the Angels released him in May 2021 are more than he had in any full season since 2016, despite coming in less than 500 plate appearances.
This latest power surge with the Cardinals now has Pujols ahead of Alex Rodriguez for fourth on the all-time home run list. Now we wait and see if he has two more in him.
Pujols plans to retire after 2022, with or without the milestone
Don't think Pujols will be tempted to chase the milestone into 2023, though. His 2022 return to the Cardinals was always intended as a farewell tour, and the 42-year-old Pujols has repeatedly said his homer total won't change that.
“I’m still going to retire, no matter whether I end up hitting 693, 696, 700, whatever,’’ Pujols told USA Today in August. “I don’t get caught up in numbers. If you were going to tell me 22 years ago that I would be this close, I would have told you that you’re freakin’ crazy. My career has been amazing.’’
The end of his chase likely won't be the end of his career, though. Pujols' second-half surge has coincided with the Cardinals' rise to the top of the NL Central. After winning two World Series in his first stint with St. Louis, Pujols will almost certainly ride into one last postseason with fellow quadragenarians Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright.
Postseason homers don't count toward MLB's career leaderboards, but Pujols' place on the October-specific homer leaderboard might feel familiar. His 19 playoff homers currently rank fifth, and he could tie Derek Jeter for fourth with one more blast. Manny Ramirez is atop that list, with 29.