Angels first baseman Albert Pujols is congratulated by third base coach… (Jeff Gross / Getty Images )
Albert Pujols has hit 446 home runs in a career that is certain to end in the Hall of Fame. But it’s likely few of those felt better than the one he hit in the fifth inning Sunday, when he drove a 2-2 pitch from Toronto’s Drew Hutchison over the left-field fence at Angel Stadium, sparking the Angels to a 4-3 win over the Blue Jays.
The ball traveled only 390 feet, hardly long enough to bridge the huge chasm between the Angels’ expectations for Pujols and his performance so far this season. But it was a start. Not only was it Pujols’ first home run of the season and his first as an American Leaguer, but it snapped a career-long drought of 27 games and 110 at-bats without a homer.
Pujols’ last regular-season home run came Sept. 22, 2011, when he was still with St. Louis.
In an effort to help Pujols relax amid the growing pressure, Angels Manager Mike Scioscia held him out of the lineup on Saturday for the first time this season. Pujols was at the ballpark by 7 a.m. Sunday – so early he had to wait for a stadium worker to unlock the clubhouse.
But in his second at-bat Sunday, with the tying run in scoring position, Pujols waved weakly at a full-count pitch that appeared to be down and away, striking out. That dropped his season average to .191 with only five runs batted in and brought a cascade of boos from the Angel Stadium crowd of 37,548.
Pujols turned the boos to cheers with his next at-bat, going down and getting a low 84-mph breaking ball and sending it on a short hop to the back wall of the Angels' bullpen wall. It was similar to the pitch with which Hutchison struck out Pujols an inning earlier only this time it caught too much of the plate.
As Pujols circled the bases, his teammates cleared the bench so when he got back to the dugout, he found it empty. Pujols hurried down the stairs to the tunnel leading to the clubhouse, though, where a welcoming party headed by Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells waited with congratulations.
The fans congratulated him, too -- with a long and loud standing ovation. And though the next Angel hitter, Kendrys Morales, paused before entering the batter’s box to give Pujols an opportunity to acknowledge the cheers, no curtain call was coming.
When Pujols came to the plate the next time, in the seventh inning, some fans serenaded him with chants of “MVP! MVP!”
The Blue Jays opened the scoring in the third inning after Angels shortstop Erick Aybar lost leadoff hitter J.P. Arencibia’s high fly ball in a pale-blue sky, allowing it to drop untouched in short left field.
Arencibia, who was credited with a hit on the play, then moved around the bases on two ground balls to first and Eric Thames’ opposite-field single to left.
The Angels went ahead to stay in the fourth, an inning Maicer Izturis started with a ground single to right. An out and a stolen base later Morales blooped a single to left, sending Izturis to third, from where he scored on Mark Trumbo’s hard grounder off the pitcher, tying the score.
Alberto Callaspo broke the tie two batters later, driving in Morales with a flare to left field. And an inning after that Pujols homered, extending the lead to 4-1.
Pujols' homer would prove to be the deciding hit when Toronto rallied with single runs in the sixth and seventh innings –- the second scoring after a Pujols throwing error.