Albert Pujols had an absolute blast. And not at the plate this time, either.
The longtime slugger made his first career pitching appearance Sunday night, closing out a 15-6 blowout for the St. Louis Cardinals over the San Francisco Giants that gave Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina the major league record for victories by a starting battery.
Molina homered and drove in four runs, Wainwright pitched six effective innings and St. Louis roughed up Carlos Rodon early. Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado each added a two-run homer for the Cardinals, who took two of three in the series after losing two of three to struggling Baltimore. Goldschmidt had three RBIs.
Pujols, the Cardinals’ designated hitter, entered to pitch in the ninth inning for the first time in his 22-year career. He gave up a three-run homer to Luis Gonzalez and a solo shot to Joey Bart but managed to get the final three outs with plenty of margin to spare.
“A dream come true to say that I did it,” stated Pujols, fifth on the career list with 681 home runs. “It was fun. It wasn’t fun giving up two bombs. I think the fans had a good time. I’m sure the guys that took me deep did, too.”
The 42-year-old Pujols became the oldest player to make his pitching debut since Lena Blackburne brought himself in at age 42 in his final game as a player/manager for the 1929 Chicago White Sox.
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With the Cardinals ahead by 13 and the outcome all but decided, Pujols overheard manager Oliver Marmol asking for someone to throw the final inning so the team could avoid using another reliever.
“They were looking and I was like, ‘I’ll do it. Why not?'” Pujols said.
He took plenty of good-natured ribbing from teammates.
“He’s got to keep the ball down,” Molina screamed in the locker room.
Pujols had an explanation.
“The thing is, I couldn’t even get it there,” he said. “Every time I tried to keep it down, I was bouncing it.”
LaMonte Wade Jr. grounded out against Pujols to end it.
Wainwright and Molina broke the major league mark with their 203rd victory as a starting battery. They passed Warren Spahn and Del Crandall, who amassed 202 victories for the Boston and Milwaukee Braves from 1949 to 1963.
“It’s such an honor to be part of this record,” Molina said.
The duo has started 311 matches together for St. Louis, third all time behind Spahn/Crandall (316) and Mickey Lolich/Bill Freehan (324) of the Detroit Tigers from 1963 to 1975.
Wainwright and Molina were drenched in almond milk and soda by teammates in the clubhouse.
“It’s a blessing that I get to do this with him for as long as we have,” Wainwright said.
Joc Pederson hit a two-run homer for San Francisco, which lost its second in a row after winning six consecutive.
Molina capped a four-run outburst in the first inning off Rodon (4-2) with a two-run single. The 39-year-old catcher added a two-run homer off reliever Zack Littell in the fifth to make it 11-0.
Wainwright (4-3) gave up two runs and three hits. He struck out five and walked two. The 40-year-old right-hander retired 14 of the first 15 batters he faced. Gonzalez got the Giants’ first hit with a two-out single in the fifth.
Rodon permitted eight runs and 10 hits over 3⅔ innings. He struck out three and walked one. He had given up just seven earned runs over his previous six starts this season.
Every St. Louis starter had a hit by the sixth inning. Pujols was 2-for-3 at the plate with a double. He scored twice and drove in a run.
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