I'll level with you: It's been quite a while since I've felt much about Albert Pujols. On the one hand this is not surprising, given that he is a 42-year-old slugger who has been coming back for one last ride for what feels like five straight seasons now. On the other hand are the facts that Pujols is a living legend, one of the best hitters to ever play the game, and still very much in pursuit of a career home run total that has only previously been reached by the true gods of the game. And yet! Each time I see a headline about how Pujols slapped one more dinger over the wall to inch closer to 700 career homers. I just glaze over it. Great. Thanks for the update.
But this is a little different. Pujols hit two dingers and drove in four runs to help the Cardinals to a 6-3 win over the Brewers yesterday. The stakes were high—St. Louis now has a 1.5-game lead over the Brewers in the NL Central after taking two of three from them this weekend—so Pujols's homers were plenty meaningful, but more importantly, they were magnificent to behold. Take a look at these suckers:
The first homer is nice, but man, that second one. As soon as that ball left the bat I felt like I had been transported back to 2005. Was that Brad Lidge on the mound? Pujols himself seemed as caught up in the moment as everyone else, pausing to admire his homer for a few moments before turning towards the Cardinals' dugout to engage in some hooting and hollering.
I spent this morning thinking a little more about why I haven't paid much attention to Pujols's slow but steady climb up the all-time home run list over these last few years, and I think it's because I don't want to be reminded of how far away today's version of Pujols is from the one that was one of the greatest hitters of his generation. Baseball is so hard, and unless you are Barry Bonds there is basically no way to regularly play it as a 42-year-old man in much of a dignified manner. Each failure piles on top of another to remind everyone just how far past it you really are; each success comes and goes so quickly that they can only be taken as fluke occurrences. Anyone can run into a fastball a few times a month.
There was nothing fluky about those bombs that Pujols hit yesterday. A good homer can inspire all sorts of feelings and revelations, and those two accomplished the seemingly impossible task of collapsing the distance between Old Pujols and Young Pujols, even if just for a moment. Intimidating is the word that I always associated with Pujols when he was in his prime. There was something about how he would stand at the plate—all of his muscles taut and his head completely still, the bat waiting behind him like a stinger—that always made me believe, no matter what, that the next pitch was destined to be deposited over the fence. Pujols stands a little too upright and his belly sticks out a little too far to inspire that kind of fear these days, but that bat is still there. And when he uncorks a pair of swings like he did yesterday, the creaky joints and extra weight all disappear, and the only thing you can see is that bat whipping through the zone with the same old power and menace behind it. That's Albert Pujols out there. He's got 689 homers. Can you believe it?