Albert Pujols, in the last at-bat against the Cubs, smashes home run No. 695; Cardinals win 2-0

ST. LOUIS — It’s not easy to lose a game in unforgettable fashion when you’re 22 games under .500 and the season is winding down, but that’s what the Cubs did on Sunday. After the sting wears off, they may even remember it as cool.

And if they don’t, it doesn’t even matter, because what Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols did on the final hit of his career against the Cubs was nothing short of legendary.

Pinching into the eighth inning of a scoreless game, Pujols nullified reliever Brandon Hughes’ fastball for a two-run homer, his 695th, that would have been more dramatic only if it had been a walk-off. Busch Stadium erupted and the Cardinals completed a three-game sweep with a 2-0 win.

“It’s pretty special, obviously, but what’s special is that we came out with a win,” said Pujols, who needs a home run to catch Alex Rodriguez for fourth on the all-time list and five more, with just 28 games to play. go, to join Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth in the 700 club.

With a runner on second and one out, Cubs manager David Ross chose to pitch to Pujols instead of putting him at first base. With the crowd electrified as Pujols walked from the on-deck circle to home plate, Ross visited the mound, drawing boos, and told rookie Hughes to attack with his best material. Two pitches later, Hughes was 451st on the list of pitchers Pujols has homered against.

“It’s a game-losing home run,” Hughes said, not appreciating the significance of the occasion in the least. “I’m the losing pitcher. He is a home run.”

Should Ross have opted for a free pass instead? Not with Paul Goldschmidt, an NL MVP lock, lurking two batters behind, was the manager’s thinking.

Before the game, according to Pujols, Cardinals announcer Rick Horton told him that he was going to hit a pinch-hit home run to win it. After sending the ball over the bullpen to left, a blast 429 feet, Pujols couldn’t wipe the grin from ear to ear as he rounded the bases.

“That was the last thing on my mind,” he said, “and I couldn’t believe it happened.”

Even before he did, the game was outstanding thanks to starting pitchers Miles Mikolas and Marcus Stroman. Mikolas beat the Cubs for eight shutout innings. Stroman held serve to seven on 98 pitches, a season-high.

Stroman got some defensive help with a customary double play in the second inning. After an error on a soft rebound by Christopher Morel at third put Corey Dickerson, Morel failed to catch a jump shot from Nolan Gorman that became a hit. But with runners on the corners and one out, Morel charged into an Andrew Knizer dribbler and, with Dickerson about to break for the plate, threw to first baseman Alfonso Rivas, who then threw a dart to catcher PJ Higgins for a bang-out. bang. outside.

Stroman was fantastic from there. Mikolas may have been even better. Then Pujols appeared and swept his performances.

“He’s one of the legends in this game,” Stroman said. “It has surpassed generations.”

The Cardinals are sailing toward 90-plus wins and a division title, and not even Pujols’ quest for 700 means more than what this team could accomplish after that.

Meanwhile, the Cubs can only be relieved that the season series is over. The Cardinals won it 13-6, their best record against the Cubs since 1985, when they went 14-4 en route to the World Series. The Cubs, who lost the last six games at Busch Stadium this year, haven’t beaten their opponents head-to-head since 2017.

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