WASHINGTON — Heading toward the plate after the 500th homer of this career, Albert Pujols glanced ahead and saw a throng of Los Angeles Angels teammates waiting right there to greet him.
He was pleased by the outpouring of support. He also had a message.
"I was pretty emotional running the bases and when I … looked at all these guys coming out, it was hard," Pujols said. "But I just told them, ‘We’ve got a game to win."’
Not a problem, especially with Pujols hitting like the Pujols of old. Continuing a strong stretch, the Angels first baseman became the first major leaguer to hit his 499th and 500th homers in the same game, driving in five runs Tuesday night to help Los Angeles beat the Washington Nationals 7-2.
"I knew this year, it was going to happen, whether it was tonight, tomorrow, two months from now," Pujols said. "So my goal was just to prepare myself every day to try to help this organization win."
The three-time NL MVP connected twice off right-hander Taylor Jordan (0-3) — a three-run homer in the first inning and two-run drive in the fifth. He’s the 26th player in big league history to reach the milestone.
Pujols also hit his 400th homer at Nationals Park.
"I admire the man. I admire his ability and the way he goes about playing the game, and I have for some time," said Washington manager Matt Williams, who also played against Pujols. "I just wish he’d do it against somebody else."
Pujols is the first player to collect his 499th and 500th homers in the same game, according to STATS. About three months past his 34th birthday, he’s also the third-youngest to get to 500; Alex Rodriguez and Jimmie Foxx were 32.
Making a recent surge, Pujols has eight homers in the past 13 games. He leads the Angels with 19 RBIs.
"That’s the Albert I’m used to seeing," Angels outfielder Mike Trout said. "Full, healthy, 100 per cent healthy."
The 500th homer went to left-centre field at Nationals Park, on an 89 mph pitch with the count at 1-2. The ball was grabbed — and later given to Pujols — by a man who identified himself as Thomas Sherrill, a 29-year-old Air Force staff sergeant from Pomona, Calif.
"That pitch was supposed to be low and away," Jordan said, "and I guess I tried too hard to get it there."
Pujols clapped his hands together a few strides before trotting home, then pointed both index fingers to the sky. Fans gave Pujols a partial standing ovation, and he acknowledged it by tipping his red batting helmet as he approached the dugout. After heading down the steps, he came back out for a curtain call.
"That’s something you tell your kids when you get older. I don’t know the next guy who’s going to hit 500," said Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs (2-0), who gave up two runs in seven innings. "Nobody knows how to react. You don’t see it too much."
Teammates said that Pujols told shortstop Erick Aybar before the game he was going to hit two homers.
"Albert’s Albert. If he tells you something, he’s going to do it," Trout said. "I’m not surprised he said that, because I’ve seen it before. He’s told me, ‘I’m going deep tonight."’
Jordan allowed six runs and eight hits in five innings. Washington entered the game with a majors-worst 22 errors and third baseman Anthony Rendon added two more.
After a couple of down-for-him years with the Angels following 11 transcendent seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, Pujols appears ready to reclaim his spot among the game’s elite hitters. He homered Friday and Saturday at Detroit to lift his total to 498, and now he’s reached the round number of 500 — a total that remains hallowed despite losing lustre lately because so many players surpassed it.
Of the 26 members of the 500-homer club, 11 reached the mark in the last 15 years, according to STATS. Gary Sheffield was the previous player to do it, hitting No. 500 in April 2009.
"You don’t see 500, obviously, every night," Pujols said. "It’s been a great career."
The Cardinals selected him in the 13th round of the 1999 draft, with the 402nd overall selection — a steal if ever there was one. Pujols won a batting title in 2003, National League MVP awards in 2005, 2008 and 2009, and World Series titles with the Cardinals in 2006 and 2011. Pujols was the first player to hit 30 homers in each of his first 12 seasons and the second — after Al Simmons in 1924-34 — to reach 100 RBIs in each of his first 10.
A nine-time All-Star, Pujols hit 455 homers with the Cardinals.
After his decade-plus of excellence in St. Louis, Pujols signed a 10-year deal worth $240 million with the Angels following the 2011 season. Almost immediately, the 6-foot-3 slugger appeared to be slowing down. He hit .285 with 30 homers in 2012 — impressive numbers for most players, but career lows at that point for Pujols.
Things got even worse in 2013. Injuries limited Pujols to 99 games, and he was sidelined from July 26 on. He ended up hitting .258 with 17 homers and 64 RBIs.
But not surprisingly, Pujols’ bat did not stay quiet for long.
Sitting at a news conference with the balls he hit over the fence Tuesday resting near his left elbow, Pujols smiled as he said: "Now we’ve got to start on the next milestone, I guess."
NOTES: Washington RHP Doug Fister threw 44 pitches in three innings at extended spring training in Florida on Tuesday. … Angels manager Mike Scioscia on Pujols’ defence this season: "He’s played first base at the Gold Glove-caliber that you would expect. We’ll have to monitor it; if he needs a day to refresh, we’ll give it to him."