The Moonshot: We are all Albert Pujols fans right now

MLB, St. Louis Cardinals

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Well, we believe in exit velocity, bat flips, launch angles, stealing home, the hanging curveball, Big League Chew, sausage races, and that unwritten rules of any kind are self-indulgent, overrated crap. We believe Greg Maddux was an actual wizard. We believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment protecting minor league baseball and that pitch framing is both an art and a science. We believe in the sweet spot, making WARP not war, letting your closer chase a two-inning save, and we believe love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good, too.

Welcome to The Moonshot.

We are all Albert Pujols fans right now

Making history in baseball is always a magical thing.

Making history in baseball in front of your own fans takes the moment to another level.

As Albert Pujols attempts to become only the fourth player in MLB history to hit 700 home runs, I humbly beseech the baseball gods:

Let it happen in St. Louis.

When the Philadelphia Phillies won their first championship after 97 years in existence, they did it at home; the celebration was so raucous that police and K9 units had to guard the field.

When the 2004 Red Sox ended their 86-year curse, it happened on the road. In St. Louis, of all places. The Sox celebrated on another team’s field, in front of a stadium with only a small fraction of their fans. The same thing happened again in 2007, when they swept the Colorado Rockies. It wasn’t until 2013 that the Sox won it all at Fenway, the first clinching game at home since 1918.

The Chicago Cubs have never won a World Series at home. Their 108-year drought ended in Cleveland, though it was one of the greatest Game 7s in baseball history.

David Ortiz’s 500th home run happened in one of baseball’s saddest ballparks, Tropicana Field. Instead of the Green Monster, a ceiling full of wonky scaffolding and a fish tank set the scene for his triumphant achievement.

The baseball world is currently watching Pujols attempt to do something even rarer. Twenty-eight players have hit 500+ homers, only nine have ever reached the 600 mark. The 700 Club is currently a party of three: Babe Ruth (714), Hank Aaron (755), and Barry Bonds (762). Pujols would be the oldest of the four, and maybe the last player to ever join the club. The next two active leaders are Miguel Cabrera, who joined the 500 club this year, and Nelson Cruz, who’s hit 459.

Only 10 active players, including Pujols, even have 300 homers.

Ruth created the club on the road when the Yankees played the Tigers in Detroit on July 17, 1934. Aaron and Bonds joined the club with home homers in 1973 and 2004, respectively. How hard might it be for Pujols to pull it off in St. Louis? The majority of his 14 homers so far this season have come on the road, including the most recent three. Between the two iterations of Busch Stadium he’s played in (there have been three), 212 of Pujols’ 693 homers so far were hit in St. Louis. He returned to his first team this year after a lengthy stint with the Angels that ended in insulting fashion: they released him in 2021, and the Dodgers picked him up for the remainder of the season. This year, he came home, determined to finish where he started. He says he will retire at the end of the season whether he reaches 700 or not.

Pujols may be the last player to even come this close to 700 home runs; these days, most players don’t last 22 seasons, and anyway, most players aren’t Albert Pujols.

Watching Pujols strive for 700 is the epitome of what makes this game so special. It is a chance for all of us to witness greatness, to see magic interrupt reality. With every at-bat, the baseball world holds its collective breath. We lean forward in our seats, wondering if this is the moment when he gets one step closer. If he gets all the way there, we will remember where we were when he made the almost-impossible possible.

It will be a historic, monumental achievement no matter where it happens, but it will mean so much more at home. The Cardinals have 16 regular-season home games left to make it happen.

May he complete his quest where it began.

— Gabrielle Starr

Why won’t the Red Sox just help the Yankees out?

“Bases loaded again?” I grunt at the bearded lifer wearing the worn-out Red Sox cap seated next to me at the pretzel dust-covered bar. The grunt is 70 percent anguished, 30 percent hopeful at the possibility of failure in a way that I just cannot shake. Sixty-five percent of the anguish is forced and fake.

Because, you see, I despise the Boston Red Sox to my core. Their season is never really over. Even after the 162nd game has been completed, it’s fair to anticipate a skin-diminished fist rising out of an unmarked grave singing “Sweet Caroline” (yes, the voice is coming from the fist). Even with the Sox sitting many games behind many other teams in the AL Wild Card chase, it’s impossible for my body to rule them out. And yet, as they face off against the Blue Jays and Rays at Fenway Park, I must. I must pretend they have been killed long ago, I must put on a brave, Bostonian face, and I must root, root, root for someone else’s home team.

And yet…they just CANNOT beat the Blue Jays. They keep getting out-clutched, something I claimed would not and could not ever happen. So here I am, staring at a wall covered in license plates and sipping something called a “Margarita” that is cherry red, nudging a 72-year-old sailor to commiserate, secure in our shared pain.”Pain? PAIN?! After four World Series in two decades?!” I shove deep down inside, as I genuinely punch the knotted wood bar after Bobby Dalbec swings over a telegraphed slider. “Bobby’s gotta go,” I say, hoping not-so-secretly that Bobby stays and continues to flail.

The Sox play the Rays two separate series during the all-important month of September. Hopefully, it’s not important for them — for “us” — and they can play without a care. But if they start playing without a care, and start improving too much, I’ll turn to pretzel dust.

Kiké Hernandez ends the ninth with a double play. Somehow, bases loaded, no outs is all for naught. They never do this. They always do this? I can’t keep track.”

This team gives me nothing but hurt,” the sailor grunts.

“Nothing but hurt? Come the f*** on,” I say a bit too loud. Probably on purpose. I’m whispering into a megaphone I brought.

— Adam Weinrib

Stache N Gas has been Atlanta’s feel-good hit of the summer

While we all get down on Fried Day, hope Kyle has the Wright Stuff and that Chuck shoves every fifth day, nothing hits quite like Stache N Gas toeing the rubber in Braves Country, alright.

Spencer Strider has been everything we could have ever hoped for out of a rookie starting pitcher, and then some. He is Atlanta’s feel-good hit of the summer. Queens of the Stone Age and 300 Likes ain’t got nothin’ on you, bro! (SUMMERTIME LOVER!!!) Bringing 100-plus heat on the reg with a mustache that would make Tom Selleck mad jealous, Strider is the guy she told you not to worry about, as well as the man many men aspire to be like.

The Quadfather is the king of his domain. Instead of playing quidditch like a nerd outside of Myers in Athens, this Clemson man is more inclined to pump up the jams than that funky football coach named Dabo. The only difference between Strider and Swinney is one likes The Strokes and the other likes to move it, move it.

You only live once, but someday we will talk about last nite and the good times that were had between the 12:51’s. I feel like we are watching Sam Elliott’s grandson throw absolute gas from the mound every fifth day. We wouldn’t want it any other way.

While it remains to be seen if Strider will be the next John Smoltz or the next Steve Avery, this is the closest thing Braves Country has experienced to Fernandomania.

Why do you think Truist Park was passing out fake ‘staches to people at the gate the other day The Braves know and we know. This dude is awesome, and he is here to stay!

If you can’t handle the heat, step out of the kitchen, or the batter’s box in this case.

— John Buhler

Baseball for your ears

Asking for a little balance

One thing new and exciting coming into the next season is the balanced schedule. This schedule will allow all teams to play each other at least once during the regular season, regardless of league or division. Though there are probably flaws in the system (as there are in nearly everything), it’s a big step forward in the right direction.

The balanced schedule is all about great entertainment value, allowing stars from each league to face each other. With the new balanced schedule, Juan Soto will face Aaron Judge and Shohei Ohtani will face Jacob deGrom during the regular season. It puts every epic matchup in play and 2023 will show MLB fans things they’ve never seen before.

— Rylie Smith

Three must-read stories from around the MLB Division

Dear Miguel Cabrera, please retire from the Detroit Tigers — At the start of the year, with Miguel Cabrera chasing his 3,000th hit to go along with 500 home runs, no one would have dreamed to suggest it was time for the sure-thing Hall of Famer hang up his cleats. However, now we’re near the end of August and he’s hitting just .257 with .308 on-base and all of 13 extra-base hits. Everyone believes he should be allowed to retire on his own terms, but contributor Scott Daniel of Motor City Bengals asks whether watching a player who was once at the top of the sport flail at the plate daily is really the way we want to remember Cabrera.

MLB’s best pitches (and the best hitters against them) — Settle in and nerd out. Call to the Pen contributor Kevin Larson takes a look at some of the best pitches thrown in baseball, and which hitters are able to own them anyway. While a number of big-name players are present in this story, there might be a surprise or two to be found as well. Dig in.

The St. Louis Cardinals are the Perfect Trade Destination for Mike Trout — With continued turmoil for the LA Angels, from injuries to continually missing the playoffs, to now an upcoming change of ownership – the idea of taking advantage to add a player like Mike Trout or Shohei Ohtani is a tantalizing one. Josh Jacobs of Redbird Rants puts forth the case for why the Cardinals would be a perfect trade partner to acquire superstar Mike Trout. Their rivals, the Cubs, might have their eye on an Angels star as well.

— Kurt Mensching

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