HOUSTON -- The uniforms have changed and the dynamics are completely different, but one constant remains: Astros fans still can't stand Albert Pujols.
The former Cardinal and current Angel gets booed every time he steps into the batter's box at Minute Maid Park, no matter how much time has passed since his prodigious, soul-crushing, game-winning home run against Brad Lidge in 2005. Now that the Astros are a contender, and the Angels are right on their heels, and the locals are filling up the ballpark, those Pujols jeers are even more pronounced.
"I love it, man," Pujols said, laughing. "It's awesome. I always said, 'When they boo you, it's two things -- you've either done something really, really bad, or you killed the other team.' I think that's what I've done. I laugh."
Pujols' infamous homer was a three-run shot in the top of the ninth inning in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, with two outs and the Cardinals trailing by two, facing elimination. The next day, signs went up all over the city of Houston that read: Albert Pujols, Public Enemy No. 1."
"Even in the churches, dude," Pujols said. "It was crazy."
But it was also bittersweet, because the Astros won Game 6 in St. Louis to advance. Pujols faced the Astros, formerly of the NL Central, twice in the NLCS. In 2004, his Cardinals won, and Pujols was the series' Most Valuable Player, batting .500 with four homers in a thrilling seven-game set.
Now Pujols finds himself in another division race with the Astros, who acquired top-of-the-rotation starter Scott Kazmir and center fielder Carlos Gomez before the non-waiver Trade Deadline.
"It's fun," Pujols said. "I have great memories playing against these people when they were good, and now they're getting to that level with the young, talented players that they have. Competition is always fun."
Pujols' 49th home run against the Astros -- the most anyone's hit against the franchise -- came in the ninth inning of Wednesday's 6-3 loss, a solo shot over the left-field scoreboard. It also marked the 13th time that Pujols has reached 30 home runs in a season, joining Hank Aaron, Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Mike Schmidt and Babe Ruth as the only players to do that.
Pujols is the only one to reach at least 30 homers 13 times within his first 15 seasons.
"The way I look at it is if I would've stayed healthy, I could've reached that milestone last year and the year before," said Pujols, who hit 17 without playing past July in 2013 and finished with 28 in 2014.
"It's a great accomplishment, man," said Pujols. "I just thank God for keeping me healthy and giving me the ability to do that. It seems like every hit I get now -- every extra-base hit, every RBI -- I'm either passing somebody or tying somebody. It's cool, man. It's fun. Especially because it lets you know that the hard work you put in every day, and the recovery, and the training in the offseason, is worth it."