Angels first baseman Albert Pujols beats the tag by Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan… (Joe Robbins / Getty Images )
CINCINNATI -- Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton each had his first hit and run batted in of the season in the Angels’ 5-4 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday, but it was hardly a satisfying or successful day for the middle-of-the-order hitters.
Hamilton hit a two-out, two-run single off Reds starter Bronson Arroyo to tie the game, 2-2, in the third inning, but he also struck out three times, his last on a 98-mph fastball from Cincinnati closer Aroldis Chapman to end the game.
There’s no real shame in that. Chapman is one of baseball’s most dominant relievers, with a fastball that often tops 100 mph, and he held left-handed hitters to a .108 average and a .330 on-base-plus-slugging-percentage (OPS) last season.
“I couldn’t figure out where his arm slot was,” Hamilton said. “I tried to lock in on the general area. With somebody who throws that hard, you might be too late by that point.”
Pujols followed Erick Aybar’s two-out single in the third with a double to left, putting runners on second and third. Hamilton followed with his single to center, scoring Aybar easily.
Pujols was waved around third, and it looked like he would be out by several feet when center fielder Shin-Soo Choo fired a one-hop strike to the plate.
But Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan didn’t lean far enough into the sliding Pujols and missed the tag, a call by umpire C.B. Bucknor that replays confirmed. Pujols, who has been slowed by plantar fasciitis in his left foot and had right knee surgery last October, was safe, the Angels tying the score, 2-2.
Pujols was spiked on the right shin on the play and hobbled to the dugout, but he remained in the game, driving in runs with a sacrifice fly in the fifth inning and a groundout in the seventh.
“It’s nice to know I still have some speed,” Pujols joked as he iced both knees afterward.
The Angels set a franchise record with 36 strikeouts in the three-game series against the Reds — the previous mark of 35 was set twice, in 2004 against the Chicago Cubs and 1961 against the Minnesota Twins — but Hamilton didn’t seem too discouraged by the whiffs.
“It wasn’t like guys were going up there one-two-three,” Hamilton said. “Guys were going deep in counts, making pitchers throw pitches, and their pitchers did a good job.”
So did the Angels' relievers, who combined to allow one run in 12 1/3 innings of the season-opening series in Great American Ball Park.
“All the guys came into some tough situations, some tight situations, and they pitched well,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “Unfortunately, we came away with only one win.”