How to give up a home run to Albert Pujols, the expert’s guide

You don’t have to pressure Ryan Dempster at all. When Albert Pujols’s name comes up, the retired pitcher delivers an answer so good it sounds rehearsed.

“I’m an expert at giving up home runs to Albert Pujols,” Dempster jokes. “If you are going to have back surgery, you will try to find the best doctor to do it. But if you want to know how to hit Pujols with home runs, there’s no one more qualified than me.”

There is some truth in that line. The two are very familiar with each other, having met in many heated divisional matchups between Pujols’ Cardinals and Dempster’s Chicago Cubs. And Dempster, a native of Gibsons, BC, who spent 16 seasons in the majors, has the dubious honor of being the pitcher who has given up the most home runs to Pujols. The St. Louis Cardinals slugger, who hit his 699th and 700th career home runs Friday in an 11-0 blowout of the Los Angeles Dodgers, marked Dempster with eight long balls in his 79 plate appearances against the pitcher.

“So much great competition between the two of us,” says Dempster, now an analyst with Chicago’s Marquee Sports Network. “He is such a fierce competitor. And for a long period of time, he was the best hitter in the game. So, to be able to compete against him and have success and have failures. [made] moments that you look back on much later in life and remember.”

Dempster has only pitched to one more batter than Pujols during his career (he has seen 87 plate appearances by Lance Berkman). And for his part, Pujols has only faced four pitchers more times than he has stepped in the box against Dempster. The results of his frequent meetings tended to be skewed in favor of Pujols, who owns a .339/.456/.807 slash line against Dempster, with 14 walks against just two strikeouts.

Dempster’s favorite story of fighting Pujols even includes doses of success and failure.

The Cubs held a three-game lead over the Cardinals in second place for the NL Central lead in early September 2008 with Dempster on the mound to start a key three-game series in St. Louis. The right-hander held a 3-0 lead until the sixth inning, when he gave up back-to-back singles, leading Pujols to the plate for the tying run.

The slugger quickly deposited the first pitch he saw from Dempster, a distance fastball, over the right-field fence.

The Cardinals won that game, 4-3, and Dempster remembers talking to Cubs outfielder Jim Edmonds later that night. Edmonds, who had spent seven years playing alongside Pujols with the Cardinals, told the pitcher that the next time he faced Pujols late in a game, he should be careful throwing anything at the outside half of the plate. After about the sixth inning, Pujols tended to adjust his approach and tried to send the ball downfield, Edmonds explained.

Sure enough, the Cardinals visited the Cubs at Wrigley Field a few weeks later, giving Dempster a chance to atone.

“We close [the NL Central title] against the Cardinals and the next day I started against them,” says Dempster. “I remembered Pujols’ previous at-bat and I said to myself, ‘I’m not going to throw him fastballs because he hit her last time.’

“Jim also mentioned to me that Pujols never broke bats, so I said to myself, ‘Today I’m going to break his bat,'” he continues. “I have nothing to lose. We just won last night, so I was able to run a sinker on his hands and broke his bat. He was pissed off.

When Dempster was traded to the American League late in his career, Pujols was there waiting. The Cubs traded Dempster to the Texas Rangers just before the trade deadline in July 2012, and his first start with his new team came against Pujols and the Los Angeles Angels.

The right-hander had nine hits and eight runs in just 4.2 innings. Pujols didn’t homer, but Dempster still felt the impact of him.

“I think, personally, Albert had a big part in that,” says Dempster. “Just for the scouting report that he could give those hitters. We’ve faced each other so many times — he watched me pitch not only when I faced him, but the many at-bats I had against his teammates and the amount of video he probably watched of me. So he gave those guys a very good scouting report and they executed him. Even the good pitches I made, they were in it.”

Pujols, 42, captured the attention of the baseball world with his recent home run chase. He announced in spring training that this season, his 22nd in the majors, will be his last before he retires. The Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic native returned to the Cardinals for one last hurray after spending a decade with the Angels (plus half a season with the Dodgers) and as his 2022 wore on, he seemed to find a new life, producing the best moment of him Offensive numbers in years.

His rise up the record books intensified when he hit eight home runs in August. Pujols moved into sole possession of fourth on the MLB all-time home run list when he hit his 697th home run on Sept. 11 to pass Alex Rodriguez and now trails only three men: Babe Ruth (714), Hank Aaron (755). ) and Barry Bonds (762).

Dempster says Pujols is the perfect combination of talent, work ethic and high IQ.

“He was an extremely good chess player,” says Dempster. “Knowing what you were going to pitch, finding patterns in which you were going to pitch. You always had to try to stay one step ahead or change what you were doing because if you kept up the same kind of repetitive behaviors, he would take advantage of it. He would maybe sit on a pitch and if you made a mistake on that pitch, you’re going to pay.

“I always said, ‘When Albert was doing well, if you made a mistake, he was going to hit a home run. If you ran your pitch, you could still hit a home run. That’s how good it was.”

As a self-proclaimed expert on the subject of delivering long balls to Albert Pujols, Dempster has been closely watching the slugger finish his Hall of Fame career on the highest marks.

“He’s more focused right now than I’ve ever seen him,” says Dempster. To emphasize that, he points to a lyric from the 2005 song, “As Good As I Once Was.”

“’I’m not as good as I once was, but I’m as good as I once was,‘” says Dempster, quoting country music artist Toby Keith.

“Albert Pujols is living that right now, man.”

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