Albert Pujols returns, reaches 700 career homers, ranking as top Cardinals’ story of 2022
By Rob Rains
For the 11th consecutive year, STLSportsPage.com has spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve counting down the top seven Cardinals stories from this year.
Ranking as the top story of the year was the return of Albert Pujols – and the revitalized end to his Hall of Fame career, including becoming only the fourth player in major-league history to reach 700 home runs.
The story began when Pujols signed in spring training, 11 years after leaving the Cardinals as a free agent following the 2011 season. For most, it seemed like a feel-good story to bring him back to where he enjoyed his most career success, with very limited expectations for what was predicted to be only a part-time role.
Here was our story from Jupiter, Fla., on the day he signed. CLICK HERE to read the story.
Opening day was already set to be a historic day in St. Louis, the last for Yadier Molina, but it became even bigger with Pujols’ return. CLICK HERE to read our story about the opener.
The pursuit of 700 home runs began to pick up around the All-Star break and intensified as September began. On Sept. 23, a Friday night in Los Angeles, Pujols reached the milestone in historic fashion, hitting both his 699th and 700th career homers.
Here is our coverage of that game, including Pujols post-game interview. To read the story and listen to the press conference CLICK HERE
Here is the complete list of the top seven Cardinals’ stories from 2022:
Number 2 – Cardinals swept out of playoffs in first round
Losing both games to the Phillies in the wild-card round, at home, was the latest disappointing finish to a season for the Cardinals, who have lost nine of their last 10 postseason games.
In addition to marking the end of the season, dropping the two consecutive games also brought an end to the playing careers of Pujols and Molina.
CLICK HERE to read our story about the first-round playoff loss.
Number 3 – Goldschmidt wins MVP award
It was something that had not happened in St. Louis since 2009, Paul Goldschmidt winning the Most Valuable Player award for the National League.
Goldschmidt received 22 of a possible 30 first place votes to easily win the award, the first Cardinal to do so since Albert Pujols won it for the third time. Teammate Nolan Arenado finished third in the voting.
To read our story about his MVP victory CLICK HERE
Earlier this week we revealed other stories on our list. On Friday we will post the story which ranked as the second most important story of the year for the Cardinals.
Number 4 – The signing of Willson Contreras
The story which came in fourth on our list was one which could become even a bigger story for the Cardinals in 2023 – the signing of free-agent catcher Willson Contreras.
The Cardinals were committed to adding a catcher this winter to succeed the retiring Yadier Molina, and after exploring a trade for Oakland’s Sean Murphy, instead signed the former Cub Contreras to a five-year contract. The deal was the largest signed by the Cardinals for a player who was not previously with the team.
CLICK HERE to read the story about the signing of Contreras.
Number 5 – Deadine deals bring Montgomery, Quintana to town
A pair of trades 24 hours apart at the trading deadline brought left-handed starts Jordan Montgomery and Jose Quintana to the Cardinals. The deal for Montgomery sent Harrison Bader back home to play for the Yankees.
The two starters proved to be quite valuable over the final two months of the season as the Cardinals won the NL Central.
To read our coverage of the two deadline trades CLICK HERE
Number 6: Wainwright, Molina tandem sets major-league record
This was a story we tracked all year, leading up to Adam Wainwright’s start on Sept. 14 with Yadier Molina behind the plate – the 325th time in their careers that the two started a game together.
The achievement had been more than 15 years in the making since Wainwright first started a game with Molina as the catcher in 2007. The two ended up with 329 career starts before Molina’s retirement at the end of the season.
To read our story about the record-breaking game CLICK HERE
Number 7 – Another injury ends Reyes’ time with Cardinals
Alex Reyes’ latest setback in a long series of injuries forced him to miss the season and ultimately led to the Cardinals’ decision to not offer him a contract for next season, making him a free agent.
At one time Reyes was ranked as the Cardinals’ top prospect and one of the best pitching prospects in the game but a series of injuries kept him from reaching those lofty expectations. The Cardinals closer in 2021, Reyes arrived at spring training – delayed because of the lockout – with a sore shoulder and doctors ultimately determined he needed an operation.
Reyes finished the 2021 season with 29 saves, earning a spot in the All-Star game, in what turned out to be the only complete season he spent on the Cardinals’ active roster.
Reyes, 28, signed with the Cardinals as an international free agent in 2013 before making his major-league debut in 2016. His injury problems began the next season, when he missed all of 2017 after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
From 2018 through 2020, Reyes suffered other injuries, including a broken hand, and pitched in a combined 20 major-league games, covering a total of 26 2/3 innings over those three seasons.
Reyes spent this season rehabbing and recovering from the surgery and expects that he will be able to pitch again at some point in 2023.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains