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OC Register: Albert Pujols gets 3,000th hit with a single in Seattle

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SEATTLE — Albert Pujols, who long ago punched his ticket to the Hall of Fame, crossed yet another threshold as he joined the elite of the elite in baseball history.

With a single into right field in the fifth inning, the Angels’ game against the Seattle Mariners on Friday night at Safeco Field, Pujols became the 32nd player in major league history to collect 3,000 hits.

After Pujols’ hit against right-hander Mike Leake, all of the Angels players left the dugout to greet Pujols at first, while the crowd of 41,705 honored him a standing ovation, and the game stopped for a few minutes.

Less than a year after he hit his 600th homer, Pujols became one of only four players to have 600 homers and 3,000 hits. The others are Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Alex Rodriguez. Pujols has 620 homers, good for seventh on the all-time list.

“I hope people grasp how incredible this is,” Manager Mike Scioscia said in anticipation of the event. “There are only four guys in over 100 years. That speaks volumes.”

Pujols is the second player to reach the milestone in an Angels uniform. Hall of Famer Rod Carew got his 3,000th hit with the Angels in 1985.

Pujols didn’t want to say much about the achievement in the days leading up to it, but he figured it would allow him to reflect on the journey that brought him from the Dominican Republic to the United States as a teenager, and into professional baseball as an unheralded 13th-round pick.

“There have been so many people that have helped me along the way,” Pujols said last week. “I couldn’t have done this myself. I think it’ll be a pretty emotional day, the day it happens, pretty exciting.”

To put 3,000 hits into perspective, the second highest total on the Angels belongs to Ian Kinsler, who has 1,842. Mike Trout has 1,073.

“Three thousand hits, man, is an accomplishment of longevity and consistency,” said Kinsler, a 35-year-old veteran of 13 seasons. “It’s one of those lines in baseball the allows you to reflect on one player’s career, on what he has done, from a rookie all the way till now.”

Pujols, 38, broke into the majors on opening day 2001, and he put up spectacular numbers over 11 years with the St. Louis Cardinals, hitting .328 while averaging 40 homers and 121 RBIs, with an OPS of 1.037. He won three National League MVP awards, the rookie of the year, two Gold Gloves and six Silver Sluggers. He also helped the Cardinals to two World Series titles.

Since coming to the Angels as a free agent prior to the 2012 season, his numbers have declined, but he’s still been a run producer. In his first six years with the Angels, he hit 30 homers three times and he drove in over 100 runs four times.

Pujols has played through injuries throughout his Angels career, although this year the club had hoped for something of a bounce-back season because he did not have surgery over the winter. He came to camp about 15 pounds lighter than last year, he said in the spring.

So far he’s also been healthy enough to play regularly at first base, after playing only six games in the field last year.

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“He’s been slowed down a little by injuries,” Andrelton Simmons said, “but whenever he looks healthy he always shows his class. When he’s good, he’s a big asset to any team.”

Pujols was hitting .248 with six homers and a .719 OPS entering Friday’s game, a slight uptick from his .241 average and .672 OPS from last year.

In the seventh year of a 10-year, $240 million contract, Pujols also earned a $3 million bonus for reaching 3,000 hits.

Although some Angels fans view Pujols as an underachiever because of his history and his contract, those within the organization have staunchly defended him, insisting he’s still a dangerous hitter and a valuable asset.

Kinsler said the criticism has been unfair.

“With fans, a lot of it is based on money and how much we are getting paid and they tend to lose sight of the accomplishments and the competition,” he said. “He’s playing against a lot of other guys who are making a lot of money. They are paid to get him out, and he continues to get hits. I hope the fans realize what it takes and the amount of energy it takes to get to this point.”

At this point, Pujols is tied with Roberto Clemente, who died in the winter immediately following his 3,000th hit.

It is fitting for those two to be tied, because Clemente was one of baseball’s first great Latin stars and also a legendary humanitarian. Clemente died in a plane crash while taking supplies to earthquake victims, and baseball’s award for community service is named for him.

Pujols, who won the award in 2008, is also known for his charity work, most notably his foundation to help children and families that live with Down syndrome.

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