Albert Pujols joins 3,000 hit club, adding to latest chapter of Hall of Fame career

The hit wasn’t his most majestic, better placed than well struck.

But there was no questioning the significance of the single, this accomplishment about an accumulation of moments rather than one crowning instant.

In his 18th season and 17 years, one month and four days after his first career hit, Albert Pujols collected No. 3,000 on Friday, overshadowing a 5-0 Angels victory and everything the game included.

Like Garrett Richards’ 6 2/3 scoreless innings, Shohei Ohtani’s two hits and the bullpen’s tidy work finishing up. Even the two-run single Pujols later added for career hit No. 3,001.

This game, instead, was all about the first hit of the night for a player who was nicknamed “The Machine” during his time with St. Louis and has continued to grind along in Anaheim.

Afterward, Pujols thanked his family, his teammates, his agents, the fans in everywhere from Southern California to the Dominican Republic and all his coaches, going back to his Cardinals days.

“There are so many people,” he said, “if I start to thank them all we might be here until midnight or 2 o’clock in the morning.”

Albert Pujols smiles from first base after getting his 3,000th hit.
Albert Pujols smiles from first base after getting his 3,000th hit.

With two outs in the fifth inning, he directed a low, 1-0 slider from Seattle’s Mike Leake into the shallow right field. Pujols rounded first, emphatically clapped his hands, looked toward the sky and shouted.

Then he clapped his hands — emphatically again and again and again — three times in total.

After the play, the Angels came out of their dugout, timidly at first and orderly throughout, congregating around Pujols for a procession of hugs and helmet slaps.

“It was hard to keep hugging everybody, so I just told them, ‘Let’s do a group hug,’ ” Pujols explained. “So we all got in a circle and we got a group hug.”

They used special baseballs for the occasion and even replaced first base prior to the next pitch. But not before coach Alfredo Griffin held the bag aloft like a championship trophy.

In the stands, several fans displayed handmade signs of tribute and four guys jumped around in their commemorative T-shirts — one baring a “3” on the chest and the other three each with a “0.”

The game was delayed just long enough for the accomplishment to be marked, and then the Angels returned to winning their fourth straight game, remaining percentage points ahead of Houston in first place in the American League West and running their road record to a baseball-best 12-2.

“You still have a game you need to play,” Pujols said. “You still need to focus to win that game. That’s what I told the guys. ‘Let’s go win the game so it can taste a little bit better.’ ”

A victory was the most fitting way for Pujols’ teammates to honor him. In the days leading up to No. 3,000, he repeatedly talked about being more concerned with the Angels’ success than his own history.

Pujols said little about his pursuit until this week, as ignoring the milestone became increasingly impossible.

His most obvious acknowledgment, in fact, didn’t come until late Friday night, when he appeared before the media in a gray T-shirt that featured his name and “3K.”

Entering Friday, Pujols had hits off 966 different pitchers, an impressive list that literally runs from A (Arroyo) to Z (Zambrano).

Albert Pujols hugs his teammates after getting his 3,000th hit Friday.
Albert Pujols hugs his teammates after getting his 3,000th hit Friday.

He has hit against every big-league team and in all but one big-league stadium — the new place in Atlanta, but only because he has never played there. Nine stadiums in which Pujols had hits are no longer in use.

And, yet, Pujols on Friday wasn’t even the only person in Safeco Field with 3,000 career hits. Ichiro Suzuki, who this week began the transition from player to the front-office executive for the remainder of the season, reached the milestone in 2016.

He recalled the occasion being “a weird moment” because 3,000 hits represent such a profound climb every baseball player can appreciate arriving at the summit.

“Everybody kind of celebrates that moment together,” Ichiro said through an interpreter before the game. “The opposing team and your team really are kind of together.”

Sure enough, a few hours later, the Mariners gathered en masse along the railing of their dugout to applaud Pujols.

At 38 years, 108 days, he is the 10th-youngest to reach 3,000. The only other player to collect No. 3,000 as an Angel was Rod Carew in 1985.

Having not yet won a playoff game since leaving St. Louis, Pujols remained insistent that a title is possible with the Angels and, with his contract running through 2021, his primary purpose.

“Nothing would taste better,” he said, “than at the end of the year if we can get that championship.”

With seven more hits, Pujols will move into baseball’s all-time top 30. By the end of this season, he likely will be in the top 20. By the end of his career, he figures to be in the top 10.

On Friday, though, Pujols stood alone, on first base and atop a career at its loftiest height yet.

Source: latimes

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