Blue Jays fans gave St. Louis Cardinals star Albert Pujols a standing ovation as the two-time World Series champion stepped up to the plate for his first at-bat in his final regular-season visit to Toronto on Tuesday.
The applause was scattered at first, but grew louder as more fans rose to their feet, prompting Pujols to remove his helmet and acknowledge the crowd with a smile and wave. Home-plate umpire Laz Diaz went out to clean the plate after Pujols was introduced, helping extend the ocation.
The 42-year-old Pujols was playing first base, replacing Paul Goldschmidt, who couldn’t make the trip across the border because he is unvaccinated against COVID-19.
This is set to be the last appearance in Toronto for the legendary first baseman, who announced that the 2022 season would be his last after signing a one-year contract with the Cardinals.
The Cardinals selected him in the 13th round of the 1999 MLB Draft. He spent 10 seasons with St. Louis and amassed two World Series championships before signing with the Los Angeles Angels as a free agent in 2012 and then the Los Angeles Dodgers last year.
Pujols told Sportsnet’s Hazel Mae that he seriously started considering retirement last season, when his Dodgers were eliminated from the playoffs, saying that he always felt he would know when it would be time to walk away.
“It was kind of that time,” he said, adding that his friends and family advised him to wait a bit longer.
Waiting worked out, because the Cardinals reached out to Pujols with a one-year contract.
“I had all the teams I could have chosen, but I think this [was] where I was gonna be… finish my career where everything started.”
At his prime, Pujols was one of the league’s most prolific offensive players, appearing in 11 All-Star Games and capturing the NL MVP title three times.
Once he retires, Pujols is widely agreed to be a lock for a Hall of Fame spot.
The reaction from the Toronto crowd was followed by plenty of reaction on social media.
Pujols and the home-plate umpire had another neat moment later in Tuesday’s game.
In the fourth inning, Pujols’ chain broke and he handed it to Diaz. On the next pitch, Pujols connected for an RBI single to tie it at 3-3.