Albert Pujols’ former manager Tony La Russa gave the slugger sound advice over a decade ago, and it paid dividends for home run No. 698.
Pujols is a patient hitter — he always has been. Rarely does he swing at the first pitch, even if it’s right down the middle.
That’s a strategy that has paid off for him. However, Friday’s blast against the Reds (which put him two away from 700) was anything but that. Albert swung at the first pitch, and made Cincinnati pay.
Each of Pujols’ home runs this season tend to tell a different story. His latest blast was all thanks to TLR.
Cardinals: Albert Pujols finally listening to Tony La Russa
“He was always mad at me because I took a lot of first pitches,” Pujols said, via Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post Dispatch. “I still take a lot of first pitches. I feel like I’m a better hitter with two strikes. I go up there and if it’s not the pitch I’m looking for, I take it. Sometimes, you take a pitch down the middle, but that’s not where you are probably looking for it. Sometimes, the ball moves just a hair, and it kind of throws you off. I’m not an aggressive hitter. That’s always been me, since I was little, minor leagues, college, high school. I like to take pitches.”
Five of Pujols’ 19 home runs this season have come on first pitches, as if he’s abandoned his previous philosophy altogether. As it turns out, maybe La Russa was onto something. Per Frederickson, Pujols is hitting .458 when he swings on the first pitch this season, with an incredible 1.208 slugging percentage.
By mentioning La Russa, Pujols is also paying homage to his former manager at the perfect time. La Russa is now back with the White Sox, but previously was dealing with a heart ailment. He still hasn’t been cleared to return to his managerial duties.
Even when Albert is nearing his own iconic status, he can’t help but credit others. That’s just the kind of player — and man — he is.