Albert Pujols still looking for first home run at loanDepot park

MIAMI — As accomplished as Albert Pujols is on the baseball field, the iconic slugger has never hit a home run at loanDepot park.

Granted, it’s not like he’s had too many opportunities, either. He’s played just six games at the retractable-roof park.

In his remarkable 22-year MLB career, Pujols has 681 homers as he closes in on 700. In Hard Rock Stadium, the Marlins' original home, he did connect on eight homers.

“It’s a beautiful park,” Pujols said of loanDepot park. “I like it."

The Cardinals' Albert Pujols sits in the dugout during the ninth inning of Tuesday night's 5-1 win over the Marlins.
The Cardinals' Albert Pujols sits in the dugout during the ninth inning of Tuesday night's 5-1 win over the Marlins.

Pujols has two more games in Miami – Wednesday and Thursday nights – to see if he can belt one over the wall in his pursuit of more home run milestones.

"That would be great if it happens," Pujols said.

If not, he adds, it wasn't meant to be.

While Pujols didn’t go yard on Tuesday night, he had two hits and was hit by a pitch during the Cards' 5-1 win. He blooped a double to right, the 673rd two-base hit of his career. He added a sharp single to right, beating the shift by ripping the ball through a vacated second base. And he exited for a pinch-runner in the eighth inning, receiving a nice hand.

In what likely will be his final big-league season, Pujols has set his goals higher in his return to the Cardinals. He’s putting the team over himself. He wants to go out with a championship.

If that happens, it would be historical and sentimental, because Pujols is reunited with catcher Yadier Molina and right-hander Adam Wainwright. All three could retire after this year, and enter the Hall of Fame together when they are eligible for induction.

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Albert Pujols is greeted by St. Louis teammate Yadier Molina after scoring during the second inning of Tuesday's night 5-1 win over Miami.
Albert Pujols is greeted by St. Louis teammate Yadier Molina after scoring during the second inning of Tuesday's night 5-1 win over Miami.

“This is not about Yadi and me or Wano,” Pujols said. “This is about the Cardinals’ organization. Our goals have never changed. That’s winning a championship together.”

When the trio were last together, the Cardinals won the World Series in 2011. Afterwards, Pujols became a free agent, and his 10-year, $254 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels was a record at the time.

Before signing with the Angels, the Marlins pursued Pujols in free agency.

The Palm Beach Post on Tuesday asked the legendary star if he ever seriously considered signing with Miami. But the 10-time All-Star and three-time National League Most Valuable Player didn’t want to rehash the past.

“That was 10 years ago,” Pujols said. “We don’t need to talk about that. My focus right now is where I am. I’m happy to be here, where it all started.”

Still, Marlins’ fans can wonder what might have been. And had he signed, how many total home runs would he have hit in a park where he currently has zero?

In 2012, the Marlins were opening Marlins Park (now loanDepot park), and former owner Jeffrey Loria was determined to make big splash moves.

After being the Florida Marlins from 1993-2011, the franchise rebranded as the Miami Marlins, complete with a sparkling new ballpark and colorful new uniforms.

Pujols got a tour of the ballpark in the fall of 2011, when it wasn’t quite completed. Several former players at the time, by coincidence, were at the stadium that day in preparation to reveal the new logo and uniforms.

The scoreboard that day read: “Welcome Albert Pujols.”

While the Marlins didn’t land Pujols, they did sign All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes, left-hander Mark Buehrle and closer Heath Bell for a combined $191 million.

Gaby Sanchez, the Marlins’ first baseman that year, understood the push for Pujols.

“There was a lot of speculation, and I got it,” said Sanchez, now an analyst for Bally Sports Florida and Marlins Radio. “Albert was the best first baseman in the game. At the end, it’s a business game. If you have the ability to get him, I understood it. I got it. There were no hard feelings on my part."

According to sources in the front office a decade ago, Miami’s offer to Pujols was 10-years, $225 million, which would have had an annual average value (AAV) of $25 million.

For the Marlins, it worked out that Pujols signed with the Angels, because his career began to decline.

Things didn’t go much better for the Marlins, who began dismantling the 2012 team by the July trade deadline. Reyes, Buehrle and Bell ended up being dealt less than a year after they had signed.

For Pujols, it’s fitting he is back where his career started in 2001, when he was the N.L. Rookie of the Year.

“When I think about Albert and I think about Miguel Cabrera, I think about the most dominating hitters in my generation,” Marlins shortstop Miguel Rojas said.

Added 24-year-old Marlins second baseman, Jazz Chisholm Jr: “He’s a legend. He’s among all the guys you watched growing up. He’s a superstar.”

To Pujols, his standing in the sport speaks for itself. Still, he feels he has unfinished business.

“Stay focused in what you want to achieve and what you want to accomplish,” Pujols advises the younger players. “We don’t go by the success that we had last year or the year before or the year before that. We go about separating every year, and knowing that we want to get better and better every time.”

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Cardinals' Albert Pujols returns to face Miami Marlins 10 years later