Albert Pujols circled the bases without showing much emotion after hitting his long-awaited first home run for the Los Angeles Angels — same as he did 445 times with the St. Louis Cardinals.
But when he returned to the dugout, he had it all to himself. There was nobody home. No players, no coaches, no batboys.
Pujols’ teammates gave him the ol’ silent treatment, a plot hatched by Torii Hunter. They were all waiting for the slugger in the tunnel leading to the clubhouse. Then, a burst of euphoria and they were all back on the bench, high-fiving and slapping him all over his body.
The reception was fun for just about everyone after Pujols’ two-run shot, which helped the Angels beat the Toronto Blue Jays 4-3 Sunday to gain a split of the four-game series.
”I thought that would be cool. I always wanted to do that, and it worked,” Hunter said. ”I just said: `Let’s get off the bench and go to the tunnel.’ He was excited about it and we were, too. We had to think fast. When I have a day off, man, I do stupid stuff.”
Pujols connected in the fifth inning for his first AL homer. The three-time NL MVP had gone 33 games and 139 at-bats dating to last year without a home run in the regular season. He had a three-homer game for the Cardinals in the World Series and hit seven home runs in spring training.
”I don’t think anything’s been lifted off my shoulders, man,” said Pujols, who did not come out for a curtain call. ”I don’t think about what you guys write or what you think. I know what I’m capable of doing, and I come out here every day and try to get myself ready for the game and give 110 percent to this team and to this organization. And if I do that, there’s nothing to be sorry about.”
Pujols drove a 2-2 pitch from right-hander Drew Hutchison (1-1) into the left-field bullpen. Mike Trout doubled one out before the home run, and Hutchison and catcher J.P. Arencibia had a conference on the mound right before the fateful pitch to Pujols.
”I didn’t think about what they were going to throw me. I see the ball and hit it,” Pujols said. ”I’ve been doing that since I’ve played this game. This game is not about guessing, it’s about making adjustments. Hopefully you get a good pitch to hit and you hit it.
Pujols homered in his 28th game and 111th at-bat with the Angels, who signed him to a 10-year, $240 million contract as a free agent in December, touching off a frenzy that resulted in more than 5,000 extra season tickets being sold. This was his first home run at Angel Stadium, the 31st big league ballpark in which he’s hit one.
”The last three weeks here, the fans have wanted to see it, and I’m blessed that I got the opportunity to do it here in front of them,” Pujols said with a trace of a grin. ”They’ve been waiting and they’ve been impatient, and the last couple of days I heard some boos out there, but that’s part of it. I touched on that the other day. If I could boo myself, I’d do it myself, too.
”But don’t blame the fans (for booing). If you want to blame somebody, blame me because I’m a big guy and I can take it. I’m not performing the way everybody’s expecting, but the season isn’t only 27 games. You play 162 games, and they’re going to cheer us more than they’re going to boo us.”
The home run drew a reaction far away, too. Several of his former St. Louis teammates were watching on television in the clubhouse after a win at Houston, and they clapped and cheered loudly when Pujols connected on Hutchison’s slider.
”My slider was pretty effective today, other than the one I hung to him,” Hutchison said. ”I was trying to bounce it in the dirt and I didn’t execute it. When you don’t execute your pitches, things like that happen.”
The All-Star slugger did not play in Saturday night’s 6-2 victory after manager Mike Scioscia kept him out of the lineup for the first time.
Pujols had not homered in the regular season since last Sept. 22. This was the first time Pujols, who began the game batting .194 with five RBI, drove in a run with a hit since April 15.
His longest homer drought prior to this was in 2011, when he came up empty in 27 straight games and 105 at-bats.
”Man, it’s a relief for him and I’m pretty sure it’s a relief for us,” Hunter said. ”We don’t have to hear about Albert having a goose egg no more. I’m happy that he got this lifted off of him. Now he can go out there and just swing the bat and have fun.”
Jerome Williams (3-1) was charged with three runs and eight hits in 6 2/3 innings.
The right-hander, coming off a three-hit shutout of Minnesota last Tuesday, gave up an unearned run in the seventh after Pujols — a two-time Gold Glove winner — committed his first error of the season with a bad throw to second trying for a forceout. Kelly Johnson followed with an RBI single to make it 4-3.
Angels lefty Scott Downs injured himself trying to avoid a line-drive single through the box by Arencibia with one out in the ninth and was replaced by LaTroy Hawkins.
Hawkins turned Omar Vizquel’s line drive into a game-ending double play and got his first save with the Angels. Downs had taken over the closer role for an ineffective Jordan Walden, who set a club rookie record last season with 32 saves.
Pujols’ longest previous home run drought at the start of a season was in 2008, when he failed to hit one in his first eight games and 27 at-bats.
NOTES: Jered Weaver will start the opener of the Angels’ three-game series at Minnesota on Monday night. In his last start, he pitched a no-hitter against the Twins. The only pitcher to throw no-hitters in consecutive starts was Johnny Vander Meer for Cincinnati in 1938. … The 45-year-old Vizquel made his third start of the season for Toronto and his first at shortstop — where he won 11 Gold Gloves. Only Ozzie Smith won more at that position (13).