Pujols concludes STL return with 2 hits, Molina jersey swap

Sports

Los Angeles Angels’ Albert Pujols waves to the crowd for a curtain call after his last at bat of the night during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals, Sunday, June 23, 2019, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

ST. LOUIS (AP) — In a weekend full of emotional moments, Los Angeles slugger Albert Pujols saved the best for last.

Pujols capped off a stirring three-day return to St. Louis by exchanging jerseys with long-time friend and Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina following the Angels’ 6-4 win on Sunday.

Pujols was cheered throughout his first series in St. Louis since leaving the club in free agency after the 2011 season. The former Cardinal got standing ovations before each plate appearance throughout the weekend and a curtain call after popping out in his final at-bat.

“This is probably one of the best moments of my career,” Pujols said. “I’m going to put it up there with the two World Series championships.”

Pujols met with Molina, his long-time friend, after the game. The two autographed and then exchanged jerseys on the field.

“That’s something we felt from our hearts that we should do,” Pujols said. “It’s something that’s going to be in my trophy case. To see the man that he has become, the leader, the champion. I can close my eyes right now and remember him, this little boy walking into Cardinals’ camp. The man that he has become is unbelievable.”

Los Angeles manager Brad Ausmus was overwhelmed by the support for Pujols over the three days.

“This is one of the most tremendous things I’ve seen in the game of baseball, the way he was treated as a visiting player,” Ausmus said. “I’ve always known how great the St. Louis fans are – but this was something special.”

St. Louis manager Mike Shildt was also impressed with the crowd’s love for Pujols.

“A special tribute to a special man,” Shildt said.

The 39-year-old Pujols was 4 for 11 over the three-game set, including a home run during a 4-2 loss Saturday. He spent 11 years in St. Louis and won three MVP awards and two World Series (2006, 2011) with the Cardinals.

After Pujols popped out with the bases loaded in the top of the ninth, fans chanted his name as he returned to first base the next half-inning. It may have been his final chance to play in front of his old fan base.

Tommy La Stella and David Fletcher drove in two runs apiece, and Tyler Skaggs tossed five shutout innings for the Angels. Los Angeles snapped a three-game losing streak and finished a long road trip with a 6-5 mark.

“He was pounding the strike zone and the curveball was good,” Ausmus said of Skaggs.

The Cardinals rallied for four runs with two outs in the ninth, sparked by Jose Martinez’s solo homer. Angels closer Hansel Robles came on to get the final out in a non-save situation.

La Stella had run-scoring hits in the second and sixth innings to back a strong effort from Skaggs and five other relievers.

Skaggs (7-6) allowed four hits over five scoreless innings. He struck out three and did not walk a batter.

“He was pounding the strike zone and the curveball was good,” Ausmus said.

St. Louis starter Miles Mikolas (5-8) gave up one run and seven hits over five innings. He struck out four and walked two.

The Cardinals struggled with runners in scoring position over the first eight innings before coming up big in the ninth.

“We didn’t score early, the runs that we needed, and that’s why we lost,” St. Louis outfielder Marcell Ozuna said.

REYES SUFFERS SETBACK

St. Louis RHP Alex Reyes was removed in the second inning of a start for Triple-A Memphis on Sunday with right pectoral discomfort. He will be re-evaluated Monday.

Reyes missed all of 2017 and most of 2018 after undergoing elbow surgery. He made four appearances on the major league level this season with an 0-1 record and 15.00 ERA.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Cardinals: RHP Jordan Hicks will be out two to three days after leaving Saturday’s game with right triceps tendinitis. “I’m really confident from the doctors and the medical team that it’s nothing related to anything structural,” St. Louis manager Mike Shildt said.

UP NEXT

Angels: LHP Andrew Heaney (0-1, 5.68) will face Cincinnati RHP Tyler Mahle (2-7, 4.17) on Tuesday in the first of a two-game series, which will kick off a six-game homestand. Heaney is making his sixth start of the season after missing the first 51 games with left elbow inflammation.

Cardinals: RHP Jack Flaherty (4-4, 4.24) will take on Oakland RHP Chris Bassitt (4-3, 3.64) in the first of a two-game set on Tuesday.

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