SAN DIEGO -- Albert Pujols didn't make a lot of friends at PETCO Park on Sunday. He frustrated the hometown team and fans with his bat, hitting his 40th home run of the year in the fourth inning. Two frames later, he got into a dustup with Padres rookie Will Venable over a play at first base. Pujols reached the 40-homer plateau for the fifth time in his career, and it's the 11th 40-homer season in the history of the Cardinals franchise. Pujols, Mark McGwire, Johnny Mize, Rogers Hornsby and Jim Edmonds are the only players to hit 40 in a season for the Cardinals. Pujols is the 20th player in Major League history with five 40-homer seasons, according to baseball-reference.com.
With the Cardinals leading, 4-0, in the fourth, Edward Mujica left a 1-1 fastball up and over the outside part of the plate. Pujols did exactly what you're supposed to do with such a pitch, driving it 377 feet into the stands. "It's a big number, but I don't play for numbers," he said. "I play to try to help my team out to win. Whatever it takes. If I can put up those numbers, great. But at the end of the year, I look at how many of those home runs I can hit to help to put my team on top." He wasn't finished with being in the middle of things, though. With two outs in the sixth, Venable hit a dribbler up the first-base line. Pujols came in on it and fielded the ball, and tagged Venable as the outfielder passed. He felt that Venable tried to elbow him on the way by. Pujols gave Venable a stare, and Venable took issue. "I asked him what his problem was," Venable said. "Anytime someone stops to stare at you ... you're wondering what his problem is. I certainly don't care enough about Albert Pujols to continue with anything that might cause friction. It's not that big of a deal, just a lot of nothing." The two jawed at each other, and the benches and bullpens cleared, though the contretemps didn't escalate. Venable minimized the incident later, and said he didn't try to elbow Pujols. But Pujols was still irritated. "I didn't say anything," Pujols said. "I just stared at him, and he popped his mouth, cussing everybody. That's when I heard him saying something and I stopped and I looked back. Kids need to learn how to play the game and respect the game, because you do something wrong, you don't have to pop your mouth out there and start cussing everybody out. I think he should respect himself and respect everybody else, his peers." It certainly was a day the two-time National League Most Valuable Player won't forget. As for the home run, it's the earliest in Pujols' career that the slugger has reached 40. He hit the number on Aug. 29, 2004, and in September in each of his three other 40-homer seasons. Pujols' career high in long balls is 49 in 2006. Pujols walked in his first two plate appearances on Sunday. On Saturday night, he struck out three times, only the ninth time in his Major League career that he has done so.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.