WASHINGTON — Some 18,000 men have played major league baseball since 1876, and only 26 of them have hit 500 home runs in their career.
Albert Pujols joined that exclusive club Tuesday night when he crushed career home run No. 500, a two-run shot to left-center field in the top of the fifth inning off Washington pitcher Taylor Jordan in Nationals Park.
Pujols hit his 499th homer in the first inning, a towering three-run shot to left field off Jordan, and No. 500, which gave the Angels a 6-2 lead, cleared the Angels' bullpen in left-center. He is the first player in major league history to hit home runs No. 499 and 500 in the same game, according to STATS LLC.
Pujols clapped his hands twice as he approached the plate after hitting the milestone home run, the Angels came out of the dugout to greet him with hugs and high-fives and he received a brief standing ovation.
[UPDATED 6:08 p.m. PDT, April 22: The home run ball was retrieved by Tom Sherrill of Pomona, an Angels fan and a member of the U.S. Air Force.]
[UPDATED 6:53 p.m. PDT, April 22: The Angels went on to beat the Nationals, 7-2.]
Pujols, 34, is the third-youngest player to reach the milestone, behind Alex Rodriguez and Jimmie Foxx, and he is the 10th player in the last 15 years to hit 500 homers.
With 22 more homers this season, he would pass eight players — Eddie Murray (504), Gary Sheffield (509), Mel Ott (511), Eddie Matthews (512), Ernie Banks (512), Ted Williams (521), Frank Thomas (521) and Willie McCovey (521) — on baseball’s all-time list.
“Albert is certainly aware of what he’s accomplished, but he’s not fixated on it,” Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said before Tuesday's game. “He wants to win baseball games, and I think that’s why he’s had such a great career and why he will continue to be very productive.”
Pujols’ first 455 homers came in 11 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, a team he won three National League most valuable player awards for and helped win the 2006 and 2011 World Series before signing a 10-year, $240-million deal with the Angels in December 2011.
Pujols shook off a brutal start in 2012 to hit .285 with 30 homers, 50 doubles and 105 runs batted in, but he was slowed in 2013 by a painful left-heel injury, hitting .258 with 17 homers and 64 RBIs before suffering a season-ending tear of the plantar fascia in his left foot in late July.
Pujols has regained his health and power stroke in 2014 — he leads the major leagues with eight homers through 20 games and has a team-high 19 RBIs.
“The way he goes about it, day in and day out, to have the numbers he’s put up is hardly a fluke,” said Angels third baseman David Freese, a teammate of Pujols in St. Louis. “He absolutely has the ultimate focus, determination and talent to be able to have the career he has.”
For all his prodigious power, Pujols has never been a one-dimensional slugger. Only three members of the 500-homer club had a higher career batting average than Pujols’ current .320 mark — Williams (.344), Babe Ruth (.342) and Foxx (.325).
Pujols has a career .409 on-base percentage, .598 slugging percentage, 529 doubles and 1,514 RBIs. He is the only player to begin his career with 10 straight .300-hitting, 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons.
He has also never struck out more than 76 times in any of his 13 seasons, a rarity in a game filled with many all-or-nothing sluggers.
“I don’t know if people realize, looking at his numbers, how hard it is to achieve some of those milestones, but to also do it with the consistency he has,” Scioscia said.
Pujols has seven years left on his contract after this season, and Scioscia believes there will be more milestones in his future.
“He’s got a lot of baseball left,” Scioscia said. “I don’t know if there are many players who work as hard as Albert does in the off-season to get where they need to be. I look for him, when it’s all said and done, to be one of those handful of players you’re in awe of.”
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