Tuesday night was about a city paying respect to a legend, and said icon responding with a special moment. Albert Pujols got the ball rolling, hitting the first of four Dodgers home runs to beat the Cardinals 7-2 at Busch Stadium.
Fans in St. Louis gave Pujols a standing ovation before his first at-bat, in the first inning, then he earned another one four pitches later by launching a ball into the left field seats, the 679th home run of his career.
“You can’t write this stuff,” said Joe Davis on his home run call for SportsNet LA.
“Storybook,” said manager Dave Roberts. “It’s one of those things you hope could happen, but the likelihood is very improbable.”
Hitting a homer directly after getting a standing ovation is so awesome. pic.twitter.com/EdJGzkmOdS— MLB (@MLB) September 8, 2021
“Any time he hits a home run, you’re watching history out there,” said Justin Turner.
Pujols’ career has been special, but especially so his first 11 years with the Cardinals, and that’s what the Busch Stadium fans were ready and willing to honor, just as they did in three games in 2019 when the Angels visited St. Louis. Pujols homered then, too.
Though Pujols hasn’t yet said what his plans are beyond this year, his 21st major league season, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said before the game that “I know there’s more in the tank.”
The Dodgers were open with Pujols when they signed him in May that they still believed in his bat, but that playing time might be limited, especially as regulars eventually got healthy. That’s proven true of late, with Tuesday marking just the third start for Pujols in the last 20 games.
“He has poured into our organization immensely, and it will have a lasting effect. We’re lucky to have him,” Roberts said. “The fans have really embraced him. He feels that. The coaches and players, the same. It’s been a love fest from all angles with Albert being a Dodger, but most importantly he’s helped us win baseball games.”
Pujols has helped the Dodgers win by crushing left-handed pitching, to the tune of .313/.349/.646 and 10 home runs to tie Max Muncy for the team lead against southpaws.
J.A. Happ was the victim for the latest Pujols home run, and the left-hander also allowed a home run to Justin Turner, the first homer for Turner in 21 games. Happ allowed four runs in his five innings.
Will Smith hit the third Dodgers home run, this one off right-hander Alex Reyes in the sixth inning. The power is to be expected from Smith, who leads National League catchers with 23 home runs this season. But he also had three infield singles for a season-high total of four hits. Smith is hitting .310/.423/.651 with 13 home runs and 36 RBI in 38 games since the All-Star break.
Turner took another left-hander, Kwang Hyun Kim, deep in the ninth for his second multi-homer game of the season.
That gave the Dodgers a convenient seven runs on 11 hits, the latter the highest total since a 16-hit attack on August 16, 21 games ago. They scored in five different innings on Tuesday, after ending Monday hitless in their last 19 at-bats.
“We’ve done a good job winning games, scoring a bunch in one or two innings,” Turner said. “We did a really good job tonight for nine innings, putting pressure on them.”
On the run prevention side, the Dodgers puzzle on Tuesday included several pieces, the byproduct of Max Scherzer’s brilliant Monday outing that left a well-rested bullpen. Nine different pitchers were used by the Dodgers, with Evan Phillips and his five outs the only one asked to pitch longer than an inning.
The Voltron combined to allow just two runs.
Nine pitchers is the most used by the Dodgers in a game this season that ended in nine innings, and tied for fourth-most in any game by LA. The eleven pitchers used last Friday in San Francisco was a season-high, and in that game the Dodgers also used nine pitchers in the first nine frames.
Home runs: Albert Pujols (17), Justin Turner 2 (23), Will Smith (23)
WP — Alex Vesia (3-1): ⅓ IP, 1 strikeout
LP — J.A. Happ (8-8): 5 IP, 7 hits, 4 runs, 3 strikeouts
Mitch White starts for the Dodgers on Wednesday (4:45 p.m. PT, SportsNet LA) in the third game of the series. He’s on four days rest after he pitched six innings for Low-A Rancho Cucamonga on Friday. The ageless Adam Wainwright starts for the Cardinals.