ANAHEIM, CALIF. – Albert Pujols raises and lowers his arms like they ride on shock absorbers as he waits for the right pitch. When he gets one he likes, he unfurls a powerful swing that one day will land him in Cooperstown.
For now, he'll have to settle for the 600 Club — a club he entered in grand style.
Pujols belted a grand slam off of former Angels teammate Ervin Santana on Saturday night to become the ninth player to hit 600 home runs and the first to do so since Jim Thome for the Twins against Detroit on Aug. 15, 2011. And Pujols is the first player ever to hit a grand slam for No. 600, powering the Angels to a 7-2 win over the Twins.
"I'm just glad to be on the list, whether it was a solo home run or a grand slam, I'm glad it happened tonight," he said."
Pujols said he felt himself pressing on Friday when he struck out in his first two at-bats. He received a text from his wife, Deidre, in the middle of the game, reminding him to relax.
"She said, 'You need to stay back and look for a good pitch to hit,' " he said. "I was like, 'I'm trying, babe.' Just trying a little too hard."
A day later, a shaky Santana loaded the bases on a single and two walks in the fourth inning. Pujols, who had walked and struck out in his first two at-bats, was behind in the count 1-2 when Santana left a slider in Pujols' zone, and The Machine cranked on it.
The ball sailed down the left field line and about five rows into the stands. Pujols walked part of the way to first base as he watched his drive sail away, and who could blame him? It happened to be one of seven grand slams hit in the majors on Saturday, a one-day record.
And just like that, Santana joined a group of pitchers who are on the wrong side of 600 home run history.
"I'm not the only one, you know," Santana said. "Probably No. 9 right now in the club. I'm happy for him. I'm glad he got it done."
Santana and Pujols were teammates on the Angels in 2012 and know each other well.
"As a fellow Dominican, he was pitching me tough," Pujols said. "It was one slider that stayed middle in and I was able to put a good swing on it and I was glad it went over the wall."
Meanwhile, the fight was on for the souvenir. Scott Steffel, 23, of Costa Mesa, Calif., emerged from the scrum with the ball. And the graphic designer at Cal State-Fullerton was put on camera within minutes. He said he's attended hundreds of games in his life and was on hand when Pujols belted No. 599 last week.
"All I wanted was to hand him the ball," Steffel said. "It's his moment."
Of Pujols' 600 homers, seven have come against the Twins and three have come at Target Field. Among his milestone home runs is No. 200, hit off of current Twins reliever Matt Belisle on Sept. 30, 2005 when Belisle pitched for Cincinnati.
Pujols joins other greats who have reached milestones against the Twins. It includes both Cal Ripken Jr. and Eddie Murray, who collected their 3,000th hit against the Twins. Mariano Rivera passed Trevor Hoffman to become the all-time saves leader with 602 in a game against the Twins.
“Everyone salutes him on the accomplishment," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "There's no denying that. Who knows what he's got left and how far is he going to go with some of these categories that he's climbing up."
Times have changed. A run to such a milestone would be counted down across the country and attract national media attention. Only home and visiting media were present here on the night that Pujols crossed the threshold. Part of the reason is that it’s no longer a rare event. Six members of the club have joined during this era, if you include Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa.
The other reason can't be ignored. The suspicion created by the Steroid Era — one that Bonds and Sosa were linked to — also has diminished such achievements. And Alex Rodriguez, sitting at fourth with 696 home runs, has tarnished his image by admitting to PED use from 2001 to 2003 and later being suspended 211 games for his role in the Biogenesis scandal.
It has taken some of the fun out of watching men try to hit a round ball with a long stick over a fence. But Angels fans didn't care. An announced crowd of 40,236 tood when Pujols came to the plate and screamed as the ball sailed into history.
On Thursday, Molitor hoped that Pujols would reach the milestone in a game in which the Twins won 7-1. On Saturday, Pujols' blast put the Angels ahead 7-1.
The Twins actually led the game 1-0 on a RBI single by Max Kepler in the first inning. Kepler added a solo homer in the seventh. But the Twins couldn't lay off Matt Shoemaker's split-fingered fastball, chasing it as it dove toward the ground. Their offense was stymied.
Santana wasn't sharp in his matchup against the team he broke into the majors with. Eric Young Jr., and Kole Calhoun hit back-to-back homers — Calhoun has three in this series — as Los Angeles took a 3-1 lead in the third.
Ben Revere hit a one-out single in the fourth, followed by a walk to Young. Santana got Andrelton Simmons to pop to short, but issued a four-pitch walk to Calhoun to bring Pujols to the plate and the fans to their feet.
"It's pretty special," Pujols said. "You look at the players who have come through the league and play so long. To be No. 9 on that list is a pretty special list."