Albert Pujols realizes he’s only one game into a decade-long commitment, so his hitless debut for the Los Angeles Angels didn’t cause him much distress.
Instead, he’ll remember the big-game electricity in Angel Stadium, the warm reception from his new West Coast fans – and the performances of Angels teammates who showed Pujols he doesn’t have to do anything by himself.
Jered Weaver struck out 10 in eight dominant innings of four-hit ball, Peter Bourjos’ bases-loaded infield single broke open a scoreless game in the eighth inning, and the Angels beat the Kansas City Royals 5-0 Friday night.
Erick Aybar added a bases-loaded triple for the Angels, who began a season of enormous expectations with their eighth opening-day win in the last nine years.
And the Angels did it with no help from Pujols. The feared slugger went 0 for 3 with an eighth-inning intentional walk after getting several raucous pregame ovations from a crowd that still can’t quite believe he’s wearing a halo cap.
”You want to do something special, but that’s the way it goes,” Pujols said. ”We got a win, and I think that’s the most important thing.”
After winning three NL MVP awards and two World Series titles during 11 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, Pujols signed a 10-year, $240 million deal to continue his career in Southern California. He was the center of attention at Angel Stadium from the moment he stepped on the field for batting practice, and he got the longest and loudest ovation from the Orange County crowd during pregame introductions, taking off his red cap and saluting his new fans.
”Just the same nerves that go through for the last 11 years of my career,” Pujols said. ”It’s just something my dad always told me: If you don’t go through that, you ain’t ready. I knew I was ready because I was going through that.”
Pujols lined into a first-inning double play, popped out in the third, and struck out on three pitches in the seventh. He walked in the eighth, but the Angels already had made their decisive rally.
Pujols has played baseball too long to worry about one game, yet he really wanted to do something special right away in Anaheim.
”I keep looking at my bat,” Pujols said. ”I was putting good barrel on it, but that’s the way it goes.”
Although Pujols is here to revamp the Angels’ lineup, this club is built on a formidable starting rotation – and in that area, not much has changed so far.
”When you’re matched up against Weaver, you know you’re not scoring a bunch of runs,” Kansas City manager Ned Yost said.
In his fourth opening-day start for the Angels, Weaver was in the same intimidating form that made him the runner-up for last year’s AL Cy Young award. The right-hander retired 13 straight after allowing back-to-back singles in the third inning, finished with double-digit strikeouts for the 12th time in his career, and didn’t walk a batter.
”It’s my job to keep us in the game, and it’s their job to get some runs on the board,” Weaver said. ”We’ve got a great lineup, so it’s just a matter of time before we start putting it together.”
Kansas City starter Bruce Chen, the oldest player on the majors’ youngest team, matched each of Weaver’s zeros during six innings of three-hit ball in the first opening day start of his 14-year, 10-team career.
After seven fruitless innings, the Angels finally made an eighth-inning rally that began with a single by Kendrys Morales in his first game since breaking his ankle nearly two years ago.
After Morales connected against All-Star reliever Aaron Crow (0-1), pinch-runner Alexi Amarista advanced to third on sharp singles by converted third baseman Mark Trumbo and new catcher Chris Iannetta. After two Royals couldn’t cleanly field Bourjos’ single off Greg Holland, Aybar’s shot down the line cleared the bases, and Torii Hunter added a run-scoring single moments later.
”We were in it all the way to the eighth,” Chen said. ”We have one of the best bullpens in the league, and we want to use it. The next time I’m pitching, I want those two guys again.”
The crowd gave another ovation to Morales, who made his first appearance with the Angels since May 29, 2010, when the Cuban power hitter broke his left ankle jumping on home plate to celebrate a game-ending grand slam. He went 1 for 3.
Notes: Weaver is the third Angels pitcher to get at least 10 strikeouts on opening day, joining Nolan Ryan (12 apiece in 1973 and 1975) and Andy Messersmith (11 in 1970). … The clubs also met on opening day last season, with the Angels winning 4-2 in Kansas City. The Royals hadn’t opened a season in Anaheim since 1975. … Bobby Abreu began the season on the Angels’ bench after going 7 for 55 in spring training amid reported complaints about his potential playing time.