West Point graduate Chris Rowley dazzles in Major League debut

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On the night before his big league debut, Blue Jays’ pitcher Chris Rowley tried to wrap his head around the milestone he was about to set. “It’s something that I’m not sure I really understand the magnitude of,” he told reporters Friday. “I’m not sure I ever will, but it’s something I’m trying to digest a little bit. It’s something I’ve tried to appreciate, but at the same time I have a job to do.” The 26-year-old right-hander became the first West Point graduate to pitch in Major League Baseball when he stepped on the mound during Saturday’s game against the Pirates.

Prior to the start of the 2016 season, Rowley had only pitched 32 2/3 innings at any professional level. He served a two-year commitment to the U.S. Army in 2014 and 2015 and was eligible for early release before returning to a career in pro ball, though he’s still technically on individual ready reserve. His stuff impressed in High-A Dunedin, where he issued a 3.49 ERA, 2.2 BB/9 and 6.3 SO/9 over 123 2/3 innings in 2016. In 2017, he quickly ascended the rungs of Toronto’s minor league system, earning a combined 6-6 record and 2.29 ERA in back-to-back gigs with Double-A New Hampshire and Triple-A Buffalo.

When fellow Toronto right-hander Cesar Valdez hit the 10-day disabled list with right shoulder impingement, the latest in a long line of injuries to befall the Blue Jays’ rotation, Rowley got the call he had been waiting for. He stepped into his role with ease on Saturday afternoon, striking out three batters and allowing five hits, a walk and a run over 5 1/3 solid innings against the Pirates.

Backed by a seven-run outpouring from the Blue Jays, Rowley not only made a favorable impression on his new team, but notched his first Major League win, too. He was excused in the sixth inning after working into a jam, and walked off the field to a standing ovation from the 46,179 fans in attendance at Rogers Centre.

“This is the dream,” said Rowley. “That was a really special moment, and I wanted to make sure that I took it in. I didn’t want to just put my head down and go into the dugout, I wanted to make sure that I enjoyed it.”

Cards’ Pujols hits 700th career home run, 4th to reach mark

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
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LOS ANGELES – St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols hit his 700th career home run on Friday night, connecting for his second drive of the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers and becoming the fourth player to reach the milestone in major league history.

The 42-year-old Pujols hit No. 699 in the third inning, then launched No. 700 in the fourth at Dodger Stadium.

With the drive in the final days of his last big league season, Pujols joined Barry Bonds (762 homers), Hank Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714) in one of baseball’s most exclusive clubs.

It’s been a remarkable run for Pujols. This was his 14th home run since the start of August for the NL Central-leading Cardinals, and his 21st of the season.

Pujols’ historic homer was a three-run shot against Dodgers reliever Phil Bickford. The ball landed in the first few rows of the left-field pavilion, the same location his two-run shot touched down the previous inning off left-hander Andrew Heaney.

Pujols received a prolonged standing ovation from the crowd – he finished out last season while playing for the Dodgers. He took a curtain call, raising his cap in acknowledgment.

The fans chanted “Pujols! Pujols!” They finally sat down after being on their feet in anticipation of seeing history.

Pujols snapped a tie with Alex Rodriguez for fourth on the list when he hit career homer No. 697 against Pittsburgh on Sept. 11.

Reaching 700 homers seemed like a long shot for Pujols when he was batting .189 on July 4. But the three-time NL MVP started to find his stroke in August, swatting seven homers in one 10-game stretch that helped St. Louis pull away in the division race.

“I know that early in the year … I obviously wanted better results,” Pujols said after he homered in a 1-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Aug. 22. “But I felt like I was hitting the ball hard. Sometimes this game is going to take more away from you than the game (is) giving you back.

“So I think at the end of the day you have to be positive and just stay focused and trust your work. That’s something that I’ve done all the time.”

Pujols has enjoyed a resurgent season after returning to St. Louis in March for a $2.5 million, one-year contract. It’s his highest total since he hit 23 homers for the Angels in 2019.

He plans to retire when the season ends.

Pujols also began his career in St. Louis. He was selected by the Cardinals in the 13th round of the 1999 amateur draft and won the 2001 NL Rookie of the Year award.

The Dominican Republic native hit at least .300 with at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs in each of his first 10 seasons. He helped the Cardinals to World Series titles in 2006 and 2011.

He set a career high with 49 homers in 2006 – one of seven seasons with at least 40 homers. He led the majors with 47 homers in 2009 and topped the NL with 42 in 2010.

Pujols left St. Louis in free agency in December 2011, signing a $240 million, 10-year contract with the Angels. He was waived by the Angels in May 2021, and then joined the Dodgers and hit 12 homers and drove in 38 runs in 85 games.