ST. LOUIS – Albert Pujols drew so many cheers in his return to St. Louis, he even apologized to Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha.
Pujols was showered with ovations in his long-awaited return to Busch Stadium, but Marcell Ozuna spoiled the homecoming with a home run that helped the Cardinals beat the Los Angeles Angels 5-1 on Friday night.
"They showed you why they are the best fans in baseball," Pujols said.
Pujols, the former Fort Osage High School star, spent the first 11 years of his All-Star career with the Cardinals, helped them win the 2011 World Series and then signed with Angels as a free agent. Due to inconsistent interleague scheduling, this was the first time the Angels have visited St. Louis since Pujols left.
The slugger went 1 for 2 with a walk before being pulled for a pinch-runner.
Pujols received a standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 48,423 every time he stepped to the plate, including one in the first inning that lasted over a minute. He embraced Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina before batting, prompting the fans to get even louder.
"It's pretty amazing. I'm just glad to be able to play here for 11 years and have the great memories. I was pretty close from having a couple of tears there I think, especially when I hugged Yadi and we had that little moment to ourselves."
In the fourth, Wacha heard a smattering of boos after walking Pujols on four straight pitches to lead off the inning. Pujols got more cheers heading to the dugout after being erased on a forceout.
"He's a dangerous hitter, I'm not trying to leave anything over the middle there," Wacha said. "Ended up walking him and I guess the crowd didn't like it too much," Wacha said.
Wacha singled in the fifth. Pujols, playing first base, told Wacha he was sorry the ovations were messing with his routine.
"He said don't worry about it, you deserve it," Pujols said.
Said Wacha: "He probably deserved about five more minutes of that ovation."
It was a rather eventful evening at the park in several ways.
In the bottom of the first with Matt Carpenter batting, the stadium's alarm system was falsely activated, prompting a brief delay and sending a scattering of fans to the concourse.
In the fourth, Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt hammered a foul fall that went completely out of the stadium.
Cardinals fans chanted "Let's go, Albert" during Pujols' at-bat in the seventh and he got a cheer as he beat out an infield single to lead off the frame. He drew a final standing ovation after being lifted for pinch-runner Wilfredo Tovar two batters later.
"I think Yadi did a nice job of giving the fans an opportunity to cheer Albert each time he came to the plate," Angels manager Brad Ausmus said. "Having played here many times and seeing how Cardinals fans react to even visiting players, I fully expected that to happen."
Ozuna's solo homer in the sixth broke a 1-1 tie. Ozuna also had RBI singles in the fourth and seventh.
Wacha (5-3) settled in after giving up an RBI double to Justin Upton in the first inning. He went six innings, struck out four, walked one and retired the final eight batters he faced.
Griffin Canning (2-4) sent down the first nine batters he faced before running into control issues in the fourth. He walked Carpenter and Goldschmidt and balked both into scoring position ahead of Ozuna's single.
Despite the loss, Friday's game will always mean something to Pujols.
"It was an incredible moment tonight and it's something that I'm going to put it right up there with the accomplishment of winning the World Series twice here," Pujols said. "It was a pretty special night."