ANAHEIM -- First they were teammates, then one was the other's hitting coach, but in the four-game Freeway Series between the Angels and Dodgers, the friends watched the games from opposing dugouts.
While the dynamics between Mark McGwire and Albert Pujols have changed throughout the years, the mutual admiration and respect has been a constant between the longtime friends.
"He was the face of this game and after the 70 home runs he hit, he was pretty much the savior of this game and he never changed -- he's a great guy," Pujols said.
While Pujols used to look up to McGwire as a 21-year-old rookie in the St. Louis clubhouse, McGwire now looks at Pujols with the same sense of admiration that so many across baseball do.
"His numbers are going to continue to grow and grow," said McGwire, now the Dodgers' hitting coach. "When it's all said and done, his numbers will surpass many, many Hall of Famers."
When Pujols met McGwire he immediately noticed the work ethic of the 16-year veteran.
"I was a rookie, but Mark's been the same guy his whole career." Pujols said. "He's never changed, it doesn't matter what kind of success he had. He was always a humble guy that works hard at what he does to try to go out there and perform."
More than a decade later, Pujols is a nine-time All Star, three-time National League MVP and six-time Silver Slugger. But when McGwire looks as Pujols, he sees something Pujols used to see in McGwire -- a baseball player with a strong desire to be the best.
"His work ethic is far and beyond anybody that I know," McGwire said. "He's relentless. Right now, playing through what he's playing through, bad foot, bad knee. Guys like that don't come along too much. I got to see him in his rookie year and seeing him now, how he's grown as a player -- as a person -- playing through pain. He never wants to be out of the lineup."
Not that McGwire, or anyone in the baseball world, needed to be reminded of Pujols' ability to play through the pain, but the Angels first baseman has done so anyway throughout the Freeway Series as he was 4-for-10 with two doubles entering Thursday's finale.
While Pujols insists he does not play for numbers, McGwire is aware of Pujols' numbers and often reminds his friend just how great he is.
"He always tells me that," a beaming Pujols said. "Anytime we have conversation he tells me that. It means a lot, but I still have a lot of career left in my lifetime hopefully. I just try to go one day at a time."
When Pujols retires and does decide to look back at his numbers, he and McGwire will have at least 1,066 home runs, 2,879 RBIs, 21 All-Star games, four World Series rings and plenty of memories.
"At the end, we are all going to hang our jersey, but the best thing you have is the memories from the time you played," Pujols said. "I think that's more important than anything else."
William Boor is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less