Every one of the 500 home runs Albert Pujols hit to join that prestigious club is important to him. You can tell in the jewelry he wears around his neck every day.
The 35-year-old Pujols has a silver chain with a tag that reads "500 home run club," and has the silhouette of a batter over a star. He wears it on the outside of his shirt.
The 34 that followed, the latest coming Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Rays, are vastly important well.You can’t see it in his celebration, but that satisfaction and pride and joy is there.
When Rays pitcher Chris Archer dominated the Angels lineup to the tune of 15 strikeouts, Pujols hit home run No. 534, a shot to left field in the fourth inning. He was the only batter in the starting lineup who didn’t strike out at least once.
He tied Jimmie Foxx with 534 career home runs to move into a tie for 17th on the all-time career home run list.
"It’s very special, obviously," Pujols said. "I never thought in my life when I got to the big leagues that I was going to have half of the home runs I’ve hit. I thank the Lord for giving me the God-given talent to play this game and to give me the strength and the power. I know the last four years have been tough with injuries and going through the things I’ve gone through, but I never give up. I work hard every day and to give the best I can to the teammates and the fans."
Pujols had the only bat that was working Tuesday as the Angels’ five-game winning streak came to an end with a 6-1 loss to Tampa at Angel Stadium.
Pujols is on a tear and is leading the way as the Angels have emerged from their offensive slump. He’s hit six home runs in his last six games, and he moved into the team lead in home runs for the Angels with 14. Mike Trout has 13.
After the game, Pujols talked extensively about his career. He doesn’t like to focus on where he is on the career list and answer questions each time he passes a Hall of Famer, but he appreciates it.
"… You guys focus on the individual accomplishment," Pujols said. "To me, it’s about helping this ballclub to win. One day, I can look back when I retire and say, ‘Wow, what a career.’ It’s hard for me to stay focused on that. I know the guys in front of me. People bring it up all the time. It’s a blessing and great accomplishment. I have to acknowledge that. At the same time, I have to block that out and come here and flip the page and be ready to play and hopefully try to win this series."
His teammates know what a big deal every time one of Pujols’ shots leave the ballpark. They show more exhuberance than Pujols does, but that doesn’t mean Pujols appreciates it any less. Some don’t let you see them sweat. Pujols doesn’t let you see him rejoice.
"It’s different for everybody. Some people jump up and down," catcher Chris Iannetta said. "Some people smile. You can tell there’s an energy about him. He’s truly savoring the moment, whatever that may be. He’s a competitor. When you see competitors succeed, they get an adrenalin rush in various ways. You’ll see it manifest in different people in different ways. With Albert, it’s pretty subdued on the outside, but if you’re around him enough you can tell. You can definitely tell he’s feeling it right now."
Pujols has 14 home runs and 27 RBI for the Angels (28-24). He’s batting .254 in 50 games, only three games fewer than Trout. Pujols has battled tweaks to his hamstring and groin, most recently, so sometimes manager Mike Scioscia has made him the designated hitter and given him a break from playing first base.
Last year, when Pujols reached 500 home runs, he said it took him two months to thank everyone he wanted to reach out to, from childhood friends to former teammates. There’s been so many players who have been instrumental in his career.
"I think if I started dropping names we’re going to be here forever," Pujols said with a chuckle. "But a few guys like Mark McGwire, Jim Edmonds, Placido Polanco, who is my best friend, I mean I talked to him the other day about hitting … There’s a Hall of Fame manager like Tony La Russa, who really since Day One he throws at me and asked me a little question.
"And I obviously made a rookie mistake. He asked me if I prefer to hit .300 or 30 homers and obviously I went for the 30 homers and he was like, ‘um, rookie mistake.’ And I realize later on, if you can hit .300 in this league you’ll be able to drive more runs and put the ball more in play and your homers are going to be there."
Pujols never gets a break from being a star, even though Trout’s star is shining so brightly from the other side of the clubhouse. Trout is the reigning AL MVP, but he’s also considered to be the new face of baseball.
That means things are changing for Pujols. Twice on this 10-game homestand, Trout has been intentionally walked to get to Pujols.
It’s an interesting situation or predicament, however one wants to look at it, for Pujols.
On Monday, Pujols was asked how much fun it is to watch Trout, and he said how it’s fun to watch everybody on the team and that "this is not the Mike Trout show." He went on to talk about how much he loves Trout, his work ethic.
And really, right now it’s the Albert Pujols show, at least at the plate. He’s hitting for power and has added to that home run total every day for the last six days.
Pujols called Trout his "shadow" and said he’s always asking him questions. The two are friends and Pujols believes Trout will be in the 500 club conversation one day. This season, Trout became the youngest player to reach 100 home runs and 100 stolen bases at 23 years old.
"Yeah, it’s great to have a great career but at the end of the day, what’s the legacy that you leave behind to a young player like Trout who’s probably going to be in the Hall of Fame, too, when he’s done," Pujols said. "Ten years, 15 years from now you’ll be talking to him about reaching 500, probably 600 home runs if he can stay healthy. .. .However I can help, that’s my job as a veteran guy to help those guys out, the same way so many guys, great players, have done for my career and continue to do."
And if he ever wants to pause and reflect about the significance of all those home runs he’s hit, away from the dugout celebrations by his teammates, he can look down at his chest and see that "500 home run club" chain. And realize how special it’s all been and continues to be.