Albert Pujols has been remarkably disciplined during his ascent on the all-time home run list. He appreciates the interest in his records — and in the Hall of Famers he passes along the way — but he says he cannot put his welfare ahead of his team's welfare.
"I believe, if I start doing that, that's being selfish," Pujols said. "I'm aware of the guys ahead of me and the guys that I pass. It's not like I'm disrespecting those guys."
In this dreary Angels season — the team has 72 losses; only the Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins have more — Pujols allowed himself a moment of sentiment late Saturday night.
His home run Saturday was No. 583 of his career, vaulting him into a 10th-place tie with Mark McGwire. Pujols started the season in 14th place, passing the likes of Reggie Jackson and Harmon Killebrew.
McGwire is different, and not only because Pujols holds him in historical regard.
"He was the guy — he and Sammy Sosa — that turned baseball around," said Pujols, referring to the great home-run record chase of 1998.
But the McGwire connection is personal too. In 2001, when Pujols had one minor league season under his belt, McGwire famously helped persuade St. Louis Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa that Pujols should make the major league team. The rest, as they say, is history.
"As a young 21-year-old, I was just following him around," Pujols said.
The two talked hitting all the time then, and they still do. Pujols said he expected that McGwire would call or text once he realized he had been tied on the home-run list by the guy he mentored in St. Louis.
Pujols hit the milestone home run Saturday in the ninth inning, off New York Yankees closer Dellin Betances.
Pujols, 36, is batting .249, with 23 home runs and 96 runs batted in. He leads the major leagues with 36 RBI since the All-Star break.
Ricky Nolasco, the losing pitcher in the Angels' 5-1 defeat, expressed his admiration for Pujols by noting that he had struggled to get him out. In 31 career at-bats against Nolasco, Pujols batted .419, with three home runs and one strikeout.
"He's always a pain," Nolasco said. "He's always a really good hitter. He'll be in the record books in a lot of categories.
"He's a no-doubt Hall of Famer. It's nice to have him on my side for once."