Albert Pujols joins 700 HR club: The best stories from those who played with and against him

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Twenty-two years. 700 home runs.

Albert Pujols achieved a level of greatness only three other players in the history of the game have matched when he hit No. 700 on Friday night — his second homer of the evening at Dodger Stadium. He joins Barry Bonds, Henry Aaron and Babe Ruth as the only players in the exclusive 700-home run club.

As the St. Louis Cardinals slugger made his march for history, ESPN’s Jesse Rogers, Buster Olney and Alden Gonzalez asked current and former teammates, opposing pitchers and other greats in the game to describe their favorite moments and what it has been like playing with, pitching to and simply witnessing an all-time great home run hitter during Pujols’ two decades in the majors.

The home runs we just can’t forget

Mike Trout: ‘This is for 600. This is gonna be sick right here’

“The grand slam, when he hit 600. Just the situation. I mean it was a big spot in the game, and everyone was thinking the same thing. ‘This is for 600. This is gonna be sick right here.’ And then he hit it. He loves the moment. And that’s the thing — people kept asking me, ‘Hey, do you think he’s going to get it [700]?’ For sure. The way Albert prepares himself — he doesn’t change his approach, doesn’t try to hit a homer. He’s just trying to put a good swing on the ball. That’s big.”

Manny Machado: Game 3 of the 2011 World Series? ‘You could even throw the rosin bag and he was probably going to hit it out’

“That was just incredible. I mean, he was not missing. You could throw him whatever and he was going to hit it. You could even throw the rosin bag and he was probably going to hit it out. Just that sweet swing. Even all his homers, going back — his first home run. I just admire that swing, how smooth it is, how long it stays in the path. It’s impressive.”

Tony La Russa: ‘That gave us life’

“In 2006, we had a big lead and everyone got hurt, so it came down to September and we were struggling to get into the playoffs. San Diego came into town and it was a Wednesday night, we had lost the first two games of the series, down a run in the eighth inning, the Padres brought in a real good sinkerball pitcher [Cla Meredith], and he hit a three-run homer and won the game. That gave us life.”

“His true claim to fame is he is a high-average hitter who has extra-base power. He plays the scoreboard. With a runner on second he’s trying to hit a line-drive single and then he may get all of it for a two-run homer. He’ll go foul line to foul line and he hits all different pitches. When he gets that underspin with his swing, he gets that carry.”

Paul Goldschmidt: ‘If you wrote it up perfectly, this is what you would write’

“There’s been three or four home runs I’ve been absolutely amazed at. The [Drew] Smyly one at his eyes was impressive. The one in Pittsburgh. That one passed A-Rod (on the all-time home runs list) and was a game winner. There was another game winner when it was 0-0 and he homered. And then the ones against the Padres. A two-homer game … kind of like storybook. That’s what I’ll remember. If you wrote it up perfectly, this is what you would write: Albert with the game on the line — and he actually comes through. Amazing.”

The secret to hitting 700 home runs

Nolan Arenado: ‘He doesn’t think about hitting home runs’

“I’m probably going to say something people don’t like but he doesn’t think about hitting home runs. That’s what he tells me, and I believe him. With the way he swings, the way he works, talking to him, he says he never thinks about it. And he’s not going to change what’s worked for him. It’s about getting on top of the baseball, back spinning the baseball and wherever it goes, it goes. He talks the talk and walks the walk with saying those things. And I really believe him.”

Mark McGwire: It’s all in the hands

“I’m a true believer in the bottom hands being the key to swinging the bat. You watch Albert. He never lets go of that bottom hand until he has to run. To me, that’s the driving force in his swing and why he’s one of the best ever.”

Chris Carpenter: The Machine calls his own shots

“There were multiple times he would go up there for his first at-bat and come back and tell us he was going to hit a homer the next time up. I couldn’t tell you how many times that happened and he would do it. It happened a lot because he understood after one time how they were going to attack him. He was amazing to watch play.”

Matt Holliday: And he’s earned the right to admire his home runs

“When you hit 700 home runs, you know when it’s going out and when it’s not. The guy that bothers me is the guy who [has three career home runs] and it hits the wall and he gets a single. That guy needs to run. But when you hit 700, you know what it feels like. If anyone can give advice on when a ball is going to go over the wall or not, he’s right at the top of the list.”

Mike Matheny: ‘He walked up … like his family wasn’t going to eat unless he made a pitcher pay’

“You run out of ways to describe how unique, different and special he is. He’s relentless. I’ve never seen a hitter who would not, could not give away an at-bat. It didn’t matter if he had four [hits] that night, he walked up to that fifth one like his family wasn’t going to eat unless he made a pitcher pay. The intensity he was able to maintain from Day 1 of spring training until he got sent home at the end … the consistency sticks out.”