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Albert Pujols: 'Pretty special' to be ninth ever to reach 600 home runs

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Albert Pujols has built a legacy, an empire, on an innate ability to maintain singular focus, never allowing the pomp and the circumstance of a moment to infiltrate his concentration. It made him "The Machine."

But 600 got to him.

The days were stacking up, the homestand was coming to an end, and Pujols wanted so badly to crank his 600th career home run at Angel Stadium that the pressure admittedly affected his swing. By Saturday, four days after he hit No. 599 and with two days until the Los Angeles Angels would embark on a road trip, it got so bad that Pujols' wife, Deidre, felt compelled to send him a text in the middle of a game.

She told him to stay back.

So, he did -- and turned a hanging slider into the grand slam that went for his 600th career home run.

"I just stayed back," Pujols said, smiling. "I'm glad that I listen to her once in a while."

Pujols became the ninth member of the 600-home-run club, joining Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714), Alex Rodriguez (696), Willie Mays (660), Ken Griffey Jr. (630), Jim Thome (612) and Sammy Sosa (609). At 37 years and 138 days old, he is the fourth-youngest member of the club, trailing only A-Rod, Ruth and Aaron.

Pujols was the first player to hit Nos. 499 and 500 on the same night, and now he's the first player to reach 600 with a grand slam.

"I'm just glad to be on that list, man," Pujols said, laughing, after the Angels' 7-2 win over the Minnesota Twins. "Whether it was a solo homer, a grand slam, I'm just glad that it happened tonight. It's a pretty special feeling. You look at the other players that come through the league and play so long, to be able to be No. 9 in that list is a pretty special number."

Pujols walked and struck out looking in his first two at-bats against Ervin Santana, a fellow Dominican native who played on the Angels with Pujols in 2012. With two on, two outs and the Angels leading 3-1 in the bottom of the fourth, Kole Calhoun drew a walk, loading the bases and bringing an announced crowd of 40,236 to its feet for Pujols.

"Really, what I was trying to do was get a good pitch to hit," Pujols said. "If you look at the first two at-bats, I was just too aggressive. Just chasing bad pitches. I was just telling myself, 'Relax.'"

Santana entered this game with a 7-2 record and a 1.75 ERA, putting together one of the finest seasons of his career. Pujols was batting .249 with a .694 OPS, nearing the midway point of what could possibly be the worst season of his career. Santana got a couple of strikes with four-seam fastballs, but then his slider tailed backdoor, and Pujols took him deep for only the second time in his career.

"I'm not the only one, you know," Santana said, playfully alluding to the fact that Pujols has homered against 386 pitchers. "I'm No. 9 right now on the 600 club. He's very nice and very humble. He always worked hard, and you can tell. He's 'The Machine.'"

Scott Steffel, a 23-year-old graphic designer who lives in Costa Mesa, caught Pujols' home run. Steffel said he attended the 2002 World Series and estimated that he has been to hundreds of Angels games throughout his life. He was there Tuesday when Pujols belted his 599th home run, also tying Babe Ruth with 2,873 career hits.

"So we figured, 'Let's just keep coming,'" Steffel said. "We're big Angels fans."

Steffel showed up Saturday with his glove, as did his dad and his brother, and caught the baseball in the air. He never thought about keeping it.

"All I wanted to do was hand Albert his ball," Steffel said. "He deserves it. It's his big moment. I just happened to be the guy to catch it."

It's hard to consider 600 home runs without giving thought to what might come next.

Pujols is 141 RBIs away from 2,000 and 125 hits away from 3,000. Only Aaron and A-Rod finished with 2,000 RBIs, 3,000 hits and 600 homers. With 10 more home runs, he will pass Sosa for the most by a foreign-born player. With 13 more, he will be seventh on the list. With 31 more, he will pass Griffey for sixth.

To reach 700, Pujols would need to average a little more than 20 home runs over the five seasons (including this one) remaining on his contract, which runs through 2021.

Before the game, Angels star Mike Trout was asked if he believes Pujols can get there.

"Oh yeah, for sure," he said. "You can't put nothing past Albert."

Pujols is the only player in major league history to hit 30 or more home runs in each of his first 12 seasons and the first player to reach 400 homers in his first 10. Those first 10 years for the St. Louis Cardinals -- in which he recorded at least a .300 batting average, 30 home runs and 100 RBIs each season -- made him a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer.

But his stint with the Angels, who rewarded him with a 10-year, $240 million contract in December 2011, has been a struggle.

It began with a six-week homerless drought at the start of the 2012 season. The 2013 season was plagued by plantar fasciitis, which prompted him to sit out the final two months. And in the four years that followed, Pujols' lower half has been in constant agony, to the point he can only be a designated hitter and can barely sprint around the bases.

"I think the biggest thing that Albert probably doesn't get credit for is how often he's playing through something -- a sore hamstring, a bad ankle, something," veteran Angels reliever Huston Street said. "Let's be clear: He's next-level tough. There are a lot of guys who would not be able to play, and a lot of that is how he's put up the numbers he's been able to put up."

Pujols spent his first four steps up the first-base line admiring his towering home run, which landed roughly five rows behind the short fence in left field. He laid the bat down gently, then jogged stoically around the bases. His teammates flooded out of the dugout and greeted him at home plate, and the home run tracker beyond the batter's eye in right-center field quickly changed from "599" to "600."

Just before Pujols stepped back into the dugout, his wife came out for a hug and a kiss.

Her text message helped him hit No. 600.

"As a DH, it was just the perfect time to check my phone," Pujols said. "I'm glad that I did."