ST. LOUIS — Hey, hey, hey – it’s fete Albert time.
More popular even than toasted ravioli in St. Louis, Albert Pujols received an extended standing ovation before his first at-bat at Busch Stadium on Tuesday night then gave the people what they came to see – career home run No. 679 (the 112th to come in this stadium).
Following the example of their elder, Justin Turner homered twice and Will Smith once (getting the standard hug from Tio Albert that comes as a bonus with every Dodger home run these days) as the Dodgers beat the St. Louis Cardinals, 7-2, and remained one game behind the first-place San Francisco Giants in the NL West race.
“That was pretty surreal for him to come back, get the ovation and give the people what they want. They wanted to see Albert hit a homer and he didn’t waste any time,” Turner said, his two homers upstaged by Pujols’ one. “That was really cool. Just to see the big smile on his face when he came back to the dugout was pretty special.
“Obviously any time he hits a homer, you’re watching history happen. For him to do it here in St. Louis, it’s obviously extra special for him. … That was pretty cool, I think, for everyone in the stadium, not just Albert.”
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts called it a “storybook” moment.
“It’s one of those things that you hope could happen but the likelihood is pretty improbable,” Roberts said. “For it to play out like that, getting the standing ovation then hitting a homer that first at-bat – storybook. I’m a big believer that the game honors you and the way Albert has played the game for so long, the right way, that’s the way it was supposed to work out.”
The largest crowd of the season in St. Louis (43,575) chanted for Pujols to pinch-hit in the ninth inning of Monday afternoon’s game. Roberts disappointed them.
A much smaller crowd Tuesday – it was announced as 34,500 but presented much lighter – got to see their hero in unfamiliar blue and greeted his first plate appearance with a sustained ovation as Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina stepped out in front of the plate, stalling to let Pujols soak it in as he had during Pujols’ 2019 visit with the Angels.
“I told him last night, ‘Don’t do that every at-bat.’ First at-bat is fine, but let’s play baseball,” Pujols said. “But you know Yadi. He’s like my little brother. He respects the history. He respects the game and he respects the fans.”
After doffing his helmet to the fans, Pujols showed off the swing that made St. Louis swoon for 11 seasons. He lined a 2-and-1 sinker from Cardinals lefty J.A. Happ – already a member in good standing in the club of 440 pitchers Pujols has taken deep – into the left field seats, prompting a delighted outburst from the crowd and another ovation.
“I love these fans and they love me,” Pujols said on the field after the game. “There’s a lot of great history here. It’s always a special moment when I step into this stadium.”
And an expensive moment – Pujols joked about the cost of all the tickets he is leaving for friends and family during this four-game series.
“Just a few. I left some tickets,” he said, laughing. “I’m not going to give you that number. I’m not looking forward to seeing my paycheck next week. … But it’s not every day I come to St. Louis and play.”
The Cardinals moved on from Pujols, scoring single runs in the first and third against the Dodgers’ parade of pitchers.
But the Dodgers scored on an RBI double by Steven Souza Jr. and an RBI groundout by Cody Bellinger in the fourth inning to re-take the lead. The RBI was Bellinger’s first since a sacrifice fly on Aug. 26.
In the fifth, Turner drove a solo home run down the left field line. It was his first home run since Aug. 15 in New York – a stretch of 84 plate appearances in between included just two extra-base hits (both doubles).
“It was nice to hit some balls hard tonight. I’ve been obviously scuffling a little bit,” Turner said.
“Just working through some stuff, trying to get into a good position and have a good feeling in the box and I felt pretty good tonight.”
He didn’t wait as long before hitting another home run, a two-run, 425-foot drive to straightaway center field in the ninth.
There has been no power outage from Smith. His solo home run in the sixth inning was his 13th in 38 games since the All-Star break and one of four hits in the game, raising his post-break batting average to .310.
The seven runs by the Dodgers’ offense was their highest total since a 9-0 win over the Pirates on Aug. 18.
The Dodgers’ latest bullpen game looked shaky early on with Corey Knebel and Evan Phillips each allowing a run. Phillips left with runners on first and second in the third inning but Alex Vesia struck out Matt Carpenter to end the inning. The bullpen held the Cardinals scoreless on three hits over the final six innings.
“They’ve been the backbone of this team all season long,” Turner said of the bullpen. “As you know, the offense has been up and down a little bit, especially of late and they’ve been carrying us. They’ve been keeping us in games. They continue to go out there and put up zeroes and give us opportunities to win games even when we’re not doing a whole lot offensively.
“They’ve been doing it all year long for us.”