Monday's MLB: Pujols returns home, finds fit with Cardinals

Chuck King
Associated Press

Jupiter, Fla. — With a wave of his hand and a tip of the cap, Albert Pujols walked back into the world of the St. Louis Cardinals for one final season.

“This is it for me,” the 42-year-old Pujols said Monday. “This is my last run.”

It was quite a scene as Pujols rejoined the Redbirds.

Wearing a big smile and his familiar red No. 5 jersey, he emerged from beyond the right field wall at Roger Dean Stadium between the first and second innings of a game against Houston.

FILE - Los Angeles Dodgers' Albert Pujols celebrates Chris Taylor's two-run home run in the second inning against the Atlanta Braves in Game 5 of baseball's National League Championship Series on Oct. 21, 2021, in Los Angeles.

Cardinals pitchers, catchers and coaches sitting on chairs far down the line stood to acknowledge the three-time NL MVP, as did the fans in the stands. Pujols strolled around to the St. Louis dugout on the third base side, where he was greeted with hearty hugs and high-fives.

All these years later, the slugger who helped the Cardinals win two World Series championship was home.

The Cardinals and Pujols agreed to a $2.5 million, one-year contract, giving him a chance to end his career in the place where it started.

“Seldom does one get to share in watching or being a part of ‘living’ history,” Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak said. “From the day we called Albert’s name in the draft room back in 1999, to now, as we set our sights on 2022, this reunion just makes sense in so many ways.”

“We are all looking forward to reuniting Albert with his Cardinals family, and for the fan in all of us, including myself, this feels like looking through the pages of a favorite scrapbook or baseball card album and seeing those images and memories jump off the pages.”

Pujols spent part of Monday video conferencing with 39-year-old Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, his teammate during eight seasons in St. Louis.

“I’m happy for him to be here,” said Molina, who likely is in his final season. too. “It’s going to be a fun year.”

Pujols played the first 11 years of his career in St. Louis, teaming with Molina to lead the Cardinals to the 2006 and 2011 World Series titles.

“We’ve only got one thing in mind — winning another championship,” Molina said.

Prior to Monday’s Graprefruit League game, Cardinals center fielder Harrison Bader posted a photo on social media of what appeared to be a No. 5 Pujols jersey hanging in a Cardinals’ locker.

Pujols doesn’t swing nearly as fearsome a bat as he did during his St. Louis hey-day, but the Cardinals decided they have a spot for a designated hitter who can hit left-handed pitching.

That’s one thing Pujols still does well.

Pujols hit a combined .236 for the Los Angeles Angels and Dodgers last season, but hit .294 with a .939 OPS against lefties.

Pujols needs 21 homers to become the fourth career major leaguer to hit 700 in a career.

“Adding someone like that is crazy important,” first-year manager Oliver Marmol said. “What he does with that clubhouse outside of his skill set is unbelievable.”

The deal brings Pujols back to where he became one of the game’s most powerful and dangerous all-around hitters. The NL Rookie of the Year in 2001 hit at least .300 with at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs in each of his first 10 seasons in St. Louis.

A wildly popular player in St. Louis, Pujols played his last game for the Cardinals on Oct. 28, 2011, a Game 7 win over Texas in the World Series.

Pujols won those three MVP awards and made nine All-Star teams with the Cardinals before signing a 10-year, $240 million deal with the Angels in 2012. He was waived by the Angels last May while hitting .198, and signed with the Dodgers, for whom he hit 12 homers and drove in 38 runs in 85 games.

With use of the designated hitter extending to the National League, the Cardinals found a fit with Pujols as opening day on April 7 against Pittsburgh at Busch Stadium approached.

“This reunion with Albert is a wonderful opportunity for not only him and the Cardinals, but also for our great fans, the St. Louis community, our players and staff, and everyone connected to the St. Louis Cardinals organization,” Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said in a statement.

“We look forward to seeing Albert in the ‘Birds on the Bat’ once again, and wearing his familiar uniform No. 5,” he said.

Padres' Clevinger set to pitch after 2nd Tommy John surgery

San Diego right-hander Mike Clevinger is inspired by poet Kahlil Gibran in a return from a second Tommy John surgery.

Clevinger said Gibran’s “The Prophet” is his favorite book, and in a recent Twitter post he quoted Gibran:

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls. The most massive characters are seared with scars.”

Twice-scarred Clevinger, one of the most effective pitchers in the majors when healthy, is on track to regain his spot in the Padres’ starting rotation after missing 2021.

The 31-year-old Clevinger enters the season with no limitations following surgery in September 2020, manager Bob Melvin said. With his return to a rotation that includes Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove and Blake Snell, the possibilities seem limitless.

“When we’re firing on all cylinders, we can compete with anybody on the planet,” said Clevinger, who is scheduled to make his first appearance in a spring training game Tuesday.

“This is a pretty outrageous lineup we’ve got. Same with the rotation. When you look at some of the arms coming out of the bullpen, we just need to put it together. I think that’s what we were missing last year. People were dealing with a lot of different things, injuries."

The Padres believe that Clevinger, 41-20 with a 2.96 ERA from 2017-20, can play a big part in the recovery as they face the prospect of playing without All-Star shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. for the first three months because of a fractured wrist.

Clevinger’s return would be “huge,” Melvin said.

“Not only performance but leadership,” Melvin said. “The intensity that he brings to the mound kind of permeates to the players on the field. He’s working hard all the time. My experience in the past with him is, guys like playing behind him.”