Posted on 01 May 2012.
ANAHEIM, Calif. April ended the same way it began for the Angels, with a victory.
In between, there were a lot of losses, a lot of angst and a lot of waiting for Albert Pujols to start delivering on high expectations.
The wait continues.
Pujols stretched his homerless streak to 23 games and 92 at-bats Monday night, but he was still smiling as he stood in front of his locker.
“We got the win,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
True, but everyone wants to see Pujols do what he does best: drive the ball, preferably over the fence. He almost did it in the Angels’ 4-3 win over the Minnesota Twins at Angel Stadium, pulling one ball a few feet to the left of the foul pole in the fifth inning.
He has come close a few times, but home runs have been elusive. The Angels, however, did get long balls from Torii Hunter, who hit his third home run in four days, and catcher Chris Iannetta, whose seventh-inning blast turned out to be the deciding run. The four runs the Angels scored accounted for their largest output in nine days.
Sometimes it just takes one hitter to get everyone in the lineup going. If not Pujols, then Hunter.
“It’s contagious,” Hunter said. “When one guy starts hitting and gets hot, the next guy gets hot. That’s what we want to do.
“You can see the sparks. We’ve got the lighter. The light’s not there yet, but we’re sparking it.”
Despite his failure to reach full ignition, even Pujols offered a small spark, lining a double to the gap in left-center in the first inning, his first extra-base hit since April 19. He scored the Angels’ first run on Hunter’s single.
In the fifth, he almost took Twins starter Nick Blackburn deep but ended up striking out on two pitches that were in on his hands.
“There’s a fine line between being selective and being passive,” manager Mike Scioscia said before the game. “At times, he’s taken pitches that he knows he’d like to have back, and at times he’s expanded the zone. That’s all part of a slump that some mortal players go through instead of the players with the talent of Albert. He’ll figure it out.”
He’s trying. Pujols is taking early batting practice, and he even went so far as to address his teammates at a hitters’ meeting before the game. Hitting coach Mickey Hatcher told ESPNLA.com that Pujols said, “I know I’m not going to be like this the whole year, guys.”
Pujols was clearly perturbed that Hatcher had spoken out of turn, saying that closed-door meetings among players and coaches should stay closed. He said he would speak with Hatcher about it later, and he refused to discuss the session with reporters.
Home runs are a touchy subject, too. Pujols’ streak without hitting a long ball is the second-longest of his career, behind a 105 at-bat stretch early last season with the St. Louis Cardinals. He remains firm that he isn’t pressing and insists it’s the last thing on his mind.
Still, you can’t help but believe he wants to hit one badly, for himself as much as for his team and the fans.
“I know I’m going to hit home runs,” he said. “When it’s going to happen, I don’t know. It could be tomorrow, maybe the next day, a month from now, I don’t know.
“My job is to get myself ready to play and take my swings. Home runs, when they come, they come in bunches. I don’t go out there and try to hit the ball out of the ballpark every day. I know that’s what fans come to see, but at the same time, they come to see us win. That’s my attitude.”
Maybe May will be different. Maybe the Angels will put together a winning streak and Pujols will find his stroke and get untracked. Scioscia said he’s getting close.
“I think it comes down to him feeling comfortable in the batter’s box and where his swing is,” he said. “Just today he was in (the batting cage) and found a couple of mechanical things in his swing that he’s trying to get in touch with — and hopefully he will. He feels he’s getting closer to where he needs to be. When he gets there, as he says, we’ll see it.”
In the meantime, Angels fans wait.