The crack. The clap. The crescendo.
One swing eliminated eight years for one minute.
“Trying to walk around the bases, and get to the plate, and trying get into the dugout and hold everything in, man, that was hard, you know?” Albert Pujols said. “Pretty special, you know? God is good. It’s amazing.”
He said he walked, but he really ran, his powerful legs churning through the home-run turns more familiar to him than any other hitter Busch Stadium III has ever known.
As soon as the ball left his bat, we knew. His hands came together in that brief celebration. Fans hit their feet. He thanked God in his head, and then he hustled, reminding himself to soak in the sound.
Yadier Molina teased him as he crossed the plate, the “little brother” playfully throwing dirt at his feet.
The Cardinals in the field who do not know the thrill of playing with Pujols but have been taught to appreciate his legacy stood respectfully in their positions.
“He earned that special moment,” shortstop Paul DeJong said.
Mike Trout, the best player in the game, a title Pujols once held, bear-hugged Pujols at the top of the visitors’ dugout. “That’s awesome!” Trout screamed.
Dan McLaughlin’s voice boomed from the TV broadcast booth. “He gave us 11 years of memories we will never forget. He’s just given us another.”
On the radio side, Mike Shannon fought back tears. He was not alone.
“Probably the most special thing I’ve ever heard,” Deidre Pujols said after her husband’s seventh-inning home run turned back time and provided a moment frozen in it.
Prepare a new spot on your shelf of Albert Pujols memories.
This one belongs up there with the spring-training blast that Pujols put into orbit above Disney as he forced his way onto the team in 2001, with the home run that derailed Brad Lidge, with the three-homer game at Wrigley Field (and the other in the World Series), with his ‘Buddy Walk Day’ heroics, with all of the high-stepping, spine-tingling, voice-stealing swats he thrilled Cardinals fans with 463 times between regular and postseason games. Every list of his best home runs is different. Saturday’s belongs on them all.
“This moment, and I’m pretty sure tomorrow, it will be even better, it’s going to be up there for me,” he said. “For my career. For my family, my wife, Deidre, and my five kids, and my friends and family that are here in town. It’s just a moment I will treasure. Forever.”
In the second game of his first series back in St. Louis as a visitor, the 39-year-old Angel turned on a Dakota Hudson sinker and launched it toward the back of the Angels’ bullpen for a without-a-doubt, 408-foot solo homer. The man who once saved Busch Stadium II from a wrecking ball made its replacement quake for old time’s sake. The reunion was officially rocking.
It was career home run No. 646. His 111th in this stadium. His second against the Cardinals as an opponent. His first as an opponent here, beneath the Arch and a fan base that loved him, lost him and flooded the stadium to celebrate his long-awaited return. And boy, did they celebrate.
“I’m not sure that I have, actually,” Angels manager Brad Ausmus answered when asked if he had ever witnessed a curtain call for a visiting player.
A press-box poll determined it’s happened here in St. Louis just once. Sort of. A crowd at Busch Stadium II cheered Ken Griffey Jr.’s 500th home run on Father’s Day of 2004 so long and so loudly that Griffey Jr., stopped on his way into the dugout and raised his Reds helmet to say thanks.
Pujols was already in the dugout.
The noise pulled him back out.
He realized they would not stop until he surfaced, his eyes full of the emotion he tried and failed to hide.
“That’s why I came out right away,” he said. “Because I knew it. I knew they were going to wait for that. Just a special moment.”
This weekend, with Sunday’s game left to go, has been a series of surreal. Baseball values nothing more than respecting the game. But baseball, even when it tries to cover it up in pine tar and tobacco spit, is a hopeless romantic. No one will remember that the Cardinals won Saturday’s game 4-2. We will all remember Molina taking long, slow turns in front of the plate before every Pujols at-bat, providing more time for the standing ovations. We will remember Pujols rising to the moment, like he did countless times for 11 seasons as a three-time MVP, nine-time All-Star and two-time World Series champ.
We will remember being reminded of his rare combination of grace and power. We will remember the best fans in baseball proving their often-mocked title is true. We will remember wondering what it would have been like if every one of his Hall of Fame milestones had been celebrated here. We will remember that this series, especially this home run, seemed to heal whatever wounds remained from the divorce of 2011.
Molina is no longer little. Pujols now looks forward to the pals telling their future grandchildren of their baseball adventures.
Pujols is no longer baseball’s best righthanded hitter. This home run was his 13th of the season. This season could be his third consecutive without 30.
The Cardinals are no longer postseason guarantees. But, as Trout told Pujols, these past two games felt worthy of October.
“I lived that for 11 years here,” Pujols responded.
And at least one minute more.