Albert Pujols is learning that hitting a baseball is tougher when the number attached to your name has a dollar sign.
After a weak opening week with the Los Angeles Angels, he has a contract ($240 million) more imposing than his batting average (.222). He has two RBIs.
Deuces wild, and not in a good way.
”I’m a human,” he said. ”Sometimes you want to press a little bit and try to do too much.”
Pujols went 1 for 4 Friday with a strikeout and a double-play grounder as the Angels lost to the Yankees 5-0 in New York’s home opener. He’s 6 for 27 and his only RBIs have come on a groundout in a 7-3 loss to Kansas City and a single in a 6-5 defeat at Minnesota. For the first time since 2008, the three-time NL MVP is homerless in his first seven games.
After splurging to sign Pujols and pitcher C.J. Wilson for $317.5 million, the Angels are 2-5 and have dropped into last in the AL West with a three-game losing streak.
”If this was the 17th day or the 20th day, then I’d say, all right, maybe there’s something going on,” Torii Hunter said. ”But with Pujols, I’m not worried. The dude works hard, tries to figure out things, and he will.”
More than anyone else, Alex Rodriguez knows the weight of playing with a hefty paycheck. After agreeing to a record $252 million, 10-year contract with Texas, he began his Rangers career by hitting .242 with no homers and two RBIs in his first nine games in 2001. His first home run didn’t come until his 11th game and 39th at-bat.
”You’re coming into a new city, big market, big expectations, with a big contract, I think overall it’s natural for you to try to do a little bit too much at first,” Rodriguez said after homering for the Yankees and tying Ken Griffey Jr. for fifth on the career list at 630.
Being the biggest star isn’t enough for some. A paycheck in the 1 percent brings along expectations of a performance in the top percentile. At all times.
”There are going to be critics that if he doesn’t hit 1.000, he’s a failure,” then-Texas manager Johnny Oates said of A-Rod in 2001. ”He’s never allowed to make an error or fall down or stub his toe.”
This is the life Pujols has chosen.
An imposing 6-foot-3 with a shaved head and broad shoulders, he subjected himself to the heightened scrutiny when he spurned the Cardinals in December for the riches and sunny lifestyle of Southern California. He grew up in St. Louis and became a latter-day Stan Musial, a nine-time All-Star and two-time World Series champion.
St. Louis wanted him back, just not for a guaranteed 10-year deal.
Now Pujols is trying to put that old life behind him.
”I’m way past that, man. Right now, I’m in a new uniform,” he said.
Still, it has to weigh on his mind at least a bit. Even Pujols admits he can’t avoid thinking about it.
”I’m not going to lie to you,” he went on. ”Yes, you miss that, because you never thought you were going to be in that situation. But you know what? I have a new family right now, new teammates, and that’s where my focus is, in trying to do the best that I can to help this organization.”
He led AL players in spring training with seven homers and an .850 slugging percentage. Of course, that means about as much as stats in MLB 2K12.
”It always seems like every time a player has a great spring, they start the season real slow. And when you struggle in spring training, you break out early in the year,” Pujols said.
Los Angeles starters have a 5.02 ERA. Kendrys Morales, back from an ankle injury that caused him to miss last season, has two fewer RBIs than Pujols – which is to say, 0.
”This isn’t about Albert,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. ”This about our team doing some things better on the mound and playing a little more fundamentally sound baseball in some areas. Albert is going to be there, but we have to be more than Albert, and we are.”
This was Pujols’ first time in new Yankee Stadium. He’s more concerned about preparation and results than surroundings.
”To me, no disrespect, it’s just a stadium. It’s a ballpark,” he said.
Against Hiroki Kuroda (1-1), he flied to left, singled up the middle and took a called third strike. He bounced into a 6-4-3 DP against David Robertson.
”I smoked that ball,” he said of the double play. ”That’s probably the hardest ball I’ve hit this year.”
He just has to guard on the slump getting to his head.
”The wrong thing to do is to try to put the highest pressure on yourself and think that you have to carry everything, because it’s not going to happen,” he said. ”Believe me. I’ve been in this league for 12 years, 13 years a professional, and when you try to do it by yourself, it’s not working.”
While many fans and media focus on the latest results, players take a longer-term view. It’s about 162 games, making the playoffs and then winning 11 or 12 games in October.
Yankees captain Derek Jeter knows another dangerous hitter has migrated to the American League. A-Rod pretty much predicted the Angels and Yankees will meet in the playoffs.
”Yeah, our pitching staff is doing backflips in the clubhouse,” Jeter said sarcastically before batting practice. ”Arguably the best hitter in the game.”
NOTES: Yankees RF Nick Swisher lined a three-run double off Ervin Santana (0-2) in the first inning, and Curtis Granderson hit a solo homer in the fifth. … The Angels are a big league-worst 12-31 on Friday the 13th, according to STATS LLC. … Santana is 0-2 for the fourth straight season. He is 0-5 with a 6.47 ERA in his last seven starts against the Yankees. … Angels RHP David Carpenter pitched a scoreless eighth in his big league debut.