ANAHEIM, Calif. - Two years ago, the Cubs gave Albert Pujols a hug. The Angels gave him $240 million.
That was the intersection point for a pair of franchises that went in dramatically different directions as the 2011 season came to a close - the once-big-market, big-spending Cubs cordially passing on the big boys as the Rickettses' austerity plan took hold under the guiding, rebuilding hand of Theo Epstein.
The Angels, with the promise of a $3 billion local TV deal, spent like never before as owner Arte Moreno continued to chase the 2002 championship success of previous ownership - signing Pujols and $77.5-million pitcher C.J. Wilson in the 2011-12 winter, and $125-million outfielder Josh Hamilton last winter.
It hasn't paid off in October yet, but in the Cubs' first game against the Angels in three year, Pujols' eighth-inning homer off Carlos Villanueva - for L.A.'s 4-3 victory -- offered a reminder of why so many Cub fans seemed to rejoice over the hype of then-GM Jim Hendry's hug of Pujols before a midseason game against Pujols' St. Louis Cardinals in '11.
"People made a big deal about it," Pujols said, smiling when reminded. "But that's just who I am. This game comes and goes, but the relationships that you build will always stay there forever, until the day you die."
Pujols, who knew Hendry for years through mutual friends from Hendry's college coaching days, still talks to Hendry once in a while.
"I have fun conversations with him," he said. "He's a guy I respect, and whether he was working for one of our rivals, to me I didn't care. ... He even sent congratulations to me when I signed here."
Easy for Hendry say. Whether the Cubs had even a slim chance of ever signing Pujols, it ended the day Hendry was fired later that 2011 season.
Meanwhile, the guy who spent a decade killing the Cubs for the Cardinals, did it again in his first game against them since signing as a free agent with the Angels.
It was his 54th homer against the Cubs, most for him against any team - and sent the Cubs to their National League-leading 19th loss in games they led at some point.
After the game, Pujols downplayed his lifetime of success against the Cubs (never mind against Villanueva - against whom he now has a 1.165 OPS).
"I treat it like every game the same, every pitcher I face," he said. "Obviously, I've had good success against those guys because I've played almost 100, 200, 300 games against them in my career, being in the same division as St. Louis.
"I take every game as my last game of my career, the last game of my life."
No more hugs for this guy.