Just a few days ago, Albert Pujols opened his phone to text and email messages from Willie Mays.
One baseball legend to another, Mays offered some teasing words.
“What took you so long?” the Hall of Fame outfielder said to the Angels slugger.
At the start of this week, Pujols snapped a streak of 93 plate appearances without a homer and tied Mays on the all-time career home run list when he blasted his 660th shot in a win over the Colorado Rockies.
He didn’t have to wait nearly as long to move past Mays.
In the Angels’ 6-2 win over the Texas Rangers on Friday, he broke the fifth-place tie 16 plate appearances after equaling Mays. Pujols drilled a fifth-inning fastball from Wes Benjamin into the Angels bullpen in left-field for the 661st home run of his career. One at-bat later, Pujols sent a pitch from reliever Demarcus Evans, who was making his major-league debut, into the same area of the spectator-free ballpark.
The homers extended leads for an Angels team trying to improve their dim postseason chances.
Friday’s victory moved the Angels to 3 1/2 games behind the Houston Astros for second place in the American League West.
“I guess it’s a relief because I didn’t wait 100 games to hit it,” Pujols said in a postgame videoconference, poking fun at himself. “Last time I waited so long. But you know me. I don’t think about it. I know that God’s time is perfect always. … We have a few games left and I just want to do what it takes every night that I’m in the lineup to help this ballclub to win and to see how many games we can crank in the last eight games now to make a push and squeeze into a playoff spot.
“I prefer myself every time to help my teammates to help this organization win. And I don’t want to change it just because I’m chasing to hit one home run out of the ballpark. Of 660 that I hit, I never thought about it. And I definitely wasn’t thinking to hit one here. It happens and look at how perfect it worked out. I didn’t only hit one. I got two on the same night.”
During his 60th career multi-home run game, Pujols switched bats. He was afraid to break the one with which he passed Mays’ record because he wanted to get it authenticated before placing it in his personal collection.
Congrats to @Angels Albert Pujols on passing Willie Mays with 661 home runs (and 662). Here's an animation of all his @mlb home runs since 2001. An incredible accomplishment! pic.twitter.com/tudmnUnOdo
— Daren Willman (@darenw) September 19, 2020
“As good as I was feeling tonight, and I trust myself, but I didn’t want to break the bat,” he said.
Pujols, 40, hasn’t been nearly as productive in nine years with the Angels as he was over 11 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, but he has reached plenty of milestones.
“My main thought during all this tonight, because I’ve watched him historically tie and now historically go ahead: It’s too bad that there’s not fans in the stands,” manager Joe Maddon said.
“This is one of those moments that can justifiably be recognized by having fans in the stands. This is why we do this. … Albert internally [had] a high level of satisfaction, no question. But he missed out of the opportunity to have the adulation, the people screaming from the rafters.”