ST. LOUIS – In a weekend full of emotional moments, Los Angeles slugger Albert Pujols saved the best for last.
Pujols capped off a stirring three-day return to St. Louis by exchanging jerseys with long-time friend and Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina following the Angels' 6-4 win on Sunday.
Pujols, the former Fort Osage High School star, was cheered throughout his first series in St. Louis since leaving the club in free agency after the 2011 season. The former Cardinal got standing ovations before each plate appearance throughout the weekend and a curtain call after popping out in his final at-bat.
"This is probably one of the best moments of my career," Pujols said. "I'm going to put it up there with the two World Series championships."
Pujols met with Molina, his long-time friend, after the game. The two autographed and then exchanged jerseys on the field.
"That's something we felt from our hearts that we should do," Pujols said. "It's something that's going to be in my trophy case. To see the man that he has become, the leader, the champion. I can close my eyes right now and remember him, this little boy walking into Cardinals' camp. The man that he has become is unbelievable."
Los Angeles manager Brad Ausmus was overwhelmed by the support for Pujols over the three days.
"This is one of the most tremendous things I've seen in the game of baseball, the way he was treated as a visiting player," Ausmus said. "I've always known how great the St. Louis fans are - but this was something special."
St. Louis manager Mike Shildt was also impressed with the crowd's love for Pujols.
"A special tribute to a special man," Shildt said.
The 39-year-old Pujols was 4 for 11 over the three-game set, including a home run during a 4-2 loss Saturday. He spent 11 years in St. Louis and won three MVP awards and two World Series (2006, 2011) with the Cardinals.
After Pujols popped out with the bases loaded in the top of the ninth, fans chanted his name as he returned to first base the next half-inning. It may have been his final chance to play in front of his old fan base.