“The last four games haven’t been fun here, that’s for sure,” the slugger said about the Angels’ recent four-game sweep at the hands of the lowly Houston Astros.
The equally bad Chicago Cubs looked like they would continue the Halos’ misery at the Big A on Tuesday as they took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning. But Pujols’ bat decided there would be no more downers — at least for a day — as he smashed reliever Carlos Villanueva’s first pitch to him deep into the left field stands for a two-run home run to give the Angels a 4-3 win.
It literally could not have come at a better time.
“… we came here ready to play and it was good to get a win,” said Pujols of his ninth homer so far in 2013 and RBI number 34 and 35.
That may be the understatement of the year to date.
After winning eight in a row at the end of May to pump some life back into the struggling franchise, the Angels experienced one of the worst collapses in franchise history. Losing four straight in your home ballpark to a Houston team that probably won’t even win 70 games is enough to raise questions
Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia won’t tolerate that sort of thinking, however, and sources say that during a long clubhouse meeting on Monday night, he loudly and pointedly told his players they had no choice but to forget what happened against the Astros and move on to the next game.
“You know, it’s not like any one of us has lost his enthusiasm for playing the games,” Scioscia said prior to Tuesday’s contest. “Sometimes things like this happen in baseball — or anything else you do in life. And a lot of times you can’t explain why it happens or you wouldn’t let it.
“So, we as coaches, instructors and the manager have to make sure every player continues to stay on the same page and work toward the same goal. For us, that’s to turn things around as quickly as we can and make it to the World Series.”
The Halos manager, in his 14th year, said that despite his team’s struggles — and that’s with the phenomenal Mike Trout starting the season with the big club from day one — he has no doubt that his group has enough talent — and enough will — to accomplish everything it set out to do in spring training.
“There’s still plenty of time — over a hundred games left,” Scioscia reminded a reporter, ”and the players who’ve been struggling have proven records of performing at a high level. It would be hard to believe that all of a sudden they can’t play the game as well as they did a year ago.”
It would be, but as the season goes on, the numbers put up by Pujols and Josh Hamilton are puzzling.
Even after Tuesday night’s game-winning bomb, Pujols is grinding away with a .244 average — 78 points lower than his career average of .322, while Hamilton could use a mulligan on just about most of 2013.
Coming into his first year as a member of the Angels, Hamilton had hit 100 homers and driven in 322 runs over the past three seasons. Getting him for an average of $25 million per season seemed almost like a bargain for owner Arte Moreno.
However, so far this season he’s hitting just .217 with 8 homers and 18 RBI, while striking out a whopping 61 times in 58 games. The former Texas slugger insists there’s nothing physically or mentally wrong, that he’s just in a slump.
“I’m doing fine, man, really,” Hamilton said before the game Tuesday. “Just working at getting it all back together.”
His manager believes he will.
“Right now, Josh is obviously not in sync,” Scioscia said, “and nobody takes it (harder) than Josh. He comes out here early all the time, going through his hitting drills and trying to find his level of comfort in the batters box.
“He doesn’t take anything for granted and he works hard at every single aspect of the game. That’s why he’s been so good for so long.
“He’ll find (his swing) and when he does hopefully it will be a big reason that we make a charge right back into the race.”
They could also use the big stick of the man they call “The Machine.”
Pujols struggles early in 2012 have been chronicled ad nauseum. But he rebounded to have another 30-homer season — his 12th straight — and people were looking for a breakout, Machine-type April and May from the Angels’ $240 million man.
He hasn’t provided it due to continuous injuries that threaten to derail his — and the Angels— entire season going forward.
Pujols is playing with a tweaked knee and plantar fasciitis, and either injury could get worse and provide a two-month rest for Pujols on the disabled list. Scioscia says the medical staff is monitoring Pujols extremely carefully.
“We actually think he’s getting better,” Scioscia added. “We’ve seen him get better and we’ve seen him put the swings he needs on the baseball. Albert knows you’re never going to feel one hundred percent in this game and he’s dealt with this before.
“But there are going to be days where he needs to take time off, and we’ll give it to him.”
The season has been a tale of the pitching and hitting rarely syncing when they need it.
Joe Blanton is a rough 1-9, although he’s pitched extremely well in his last three starts, while Ryan Madson continues to recover and rehab from Tommy John surgery before he takes his place as the closer for a team whose bullpen — despite Ernesto Frieri’s 13 saves — has been inconsistent.
Get those two back on track and healthy, along with consistent performances each night from Pujols and Hamilton, and the Halos can get back into the race.