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LOS ANGELES – Welcome to the 700 club, Albert Pujols! The St. Louis Cardinals legend has officially slugged his way to exclusive baseball territory in his sendoff season.

In legendary fashion, Albert Pujols crushed his 700th career home run just one at-bat after his 699th home run. Pujols becomes just the fourth player in Major League Baseball history to reach that milestone.

Widely praised as one of baseball’s best hitters in the 21st century, the two-time World Series champion will end his baseball career fulfilling one of baseball’s most-anticipated storylines of the season.

“I just try to do my thing,” Pujols told FOX2 in May on the potential of reaching the 700-home run milestone. “I just let things happen. My job pretty much is to try to get ready to play every day and focus to help our ball club to win every night however I can. At the end of the day, if it happens, it happens, but it’s something that I don’t even think about.”

Pujols, stuck at 698 home runs for nearly a week prior to Friday’s ballgame, needed less than an hour to take care of unfinished business. Pujols first took Dodgers starter Andrew Heaney deep in the third inning, a two-run home run to give the Cardinals their first lead of the night. In the next inning, Pujols picked up a three-run home run for the historic 700th blast off relief pitcher Phil Bickford.

The journey to 700 home runs: More than 3,000 games and nearly 11,400 at-bats over 22 seasons, the first 11 campaigns and the grand finale as arguably the most-dominant hitter all-time for a storied St. Louis Cardinals franchise. Exactly 7,840 days have passed since Pujols’ first major-league blast on April 6, 2001 against Armando Reynoso of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Pujols enjoyed at least 30 home runs in each of his first 11 seasons with the Cardinals, the longest such streak to start a baseball career. He also delivered a .300 batting average, 100 runs scored and 100 RBIs or better in nine of those 11 seasons. He slugged a career-best 49 home runs in 2006 en route to his first World Series title.

When Pujols departed St. Louis after the 2011 season, he was second in the all-time record books among Cardinals with 445 home runs, only trailing Stan Musial’s 475. His power pace slowed down upon joining the Los Angeles Angels in 2012, though he reached 500 home runs in 2014 and the 600-milestone in 2017.

The chase for 700 home runs has been a hot topic among baseball fans ever since Pujols signed a one-year contract to reunite with the Cardinals late in Spring Training, a season he has consistently reiterated will be his last. He entered the 2022 season with 679 round-trippers.

Pujols overcame a slow start in the power department, which only generated four home runs in the season’s first three months. With increased playing time and mechanical adjustments, Pujols turned the clock on father time to make a lofty goal closer to reality. Pujols has mashed 17 home runs since the start of July and 14 since the turn to August. The chase intensified behind three multi-home run games this season.

Above all, Pujols’ recent surge has helped the Cardinals to the cusp of their fourth straight playoff berth. St. Louis entered its penultimate roadtrip with a 15-1 record in games during which Pujols went deep this season. On six occasions since home run No. 690, including his first home run Friday, Pujols has either tied the game or given the Cardinals a lead.

That remarkable trend also included home runs in back-to-back games in Pittsburgh earlier this month to match and overtake Alex Rodriguez for fourth-place all-time. Pujols tied a Sept. 10 game with his 696th career blast to get even with A-Rod, then sparked a ninth-inning comeback with a go-ahead home run on Sept. 11.

“He continues to do it in meaningful situations, that’s what matters,” said Cardinals manager Oli Marmol. “It’d be one thing if he’s just chasing it, but he’s taking an unbelievable approach and delivering when we need it most.”

While chasing fourth-place all-time and 700 career home runs, Pujols passed a more specific home run record held by MLB’s all-time home run leader Barry Bonds. Pujols went deep against his 450th different hurler on Aug. 29, giving him the most home runs all-time off of different pitchers. Heaney and Bickford were first-time victims, so Pujols has extended that record with round-trippers against 455 unique arms.

Only three MLB greats stand ahead of Pujols in the 700-home run club. The top three all-time home run leaders are Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714). Pujols and Aaron are now the only players in history with at least 700 home runs and 3,000 hits.

The sendoff season has been quite special for Pujols, one in which he participated the Home Run Derby and MLB All-Star Game after a commissioner’s legacy pick and one in which he also made his first appearance as a pitcher.

Now in his 12th season with the Cardinals, Pujols won three NL MVP awards and two World Series rings in St. Louis from 2001-2011, a stint during which he slugged at least 32 home runs each season and pushed several franchise batting records. He ranks second in Cardinals history with 466 home runs only behind fellow Cardinals legend Stan Musial. 

And there’s really only more thing Pujols wants to polish up a Hall of Fame career.

“Is he chasing 700? Yes, but he’s chasing a championship more than that,” said Marmol.

“It’s pretty awesome to be back here, play my last year where everything started here with the Cardinals, and try to win another championship,” said Pujols.

Pujols has eleven more games to add to his 700 career home runs as the Cardinals set sights for postseason. He carries a .266 batting average, 21 home runs and 58 RBIs in his final season, only behind MVP hopefuls Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado in the last two categories among teammates.