ANAHEIM, Calif. – The Albert Pujols homer run watch continues, but for once, nobody cares.
Well, maybe Pujols does.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia has been saying his team is more than one player, even if that one player is Pujols. But if the Angels are going to live up to expectations – as lofty as they are – they need more than just their $240-million man to deliver.
They need Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick and Mark Trumbo and Jordan Walden. They need to get on base and move runners over. They need to hit with runners in scoring position, and they need to take the extra base.
They may have the ability to hit the long ball, but “little ball” wins games, too.
Sooner or later, Pujols is going to go deep. He came close again Friday night, sending a fly ball to the fence in left field against the Baltimore Orioles at Angel Stadium. When it was caught by Nolan Reimold, leaving runners at first and second, Pujols clapped his hands in obvious frustration.
Not to worry. The Angels did a lot of little things well in a 6-3 victory over the Orioles. But they have to keep doing them if they intend to close ground on the Texas Rangers in the American League West.
“The biggest thing we can do is be consistent, have good at-bats and try to get the job done,” Kendrick said. “Everybody chip in, moving runners when we need to and try to get some key hits.”
The Angels picked up ground on the Rangers for only the second time in 11 days, but they needed a rainout in the Texas-Detroit game to do it. They haven’t won two in a row this season, so although Friday’s victory was sweet, it won’t mean much if they can’t keep their momentum moving forward.
“The only way you carry momentum is to start with the next pitch the next day and hopefully have positive things happen and start to have things fall into place,” Scioscia said. “Get a leg up and hold leads. That’s what we need to do.”
They got three doubles in the first inning – one each by Kendrick, Torii Hunter and Trumbo – to score two runs, then added another in the second. Alberto Callaspo reached base on an error by Orioles second baseman Robert Andino, took second on Aybar’s bunt single and scored on Kendrick’s single.
In the sixth, they used a walk, an infield hit, another walk and a double by Kendrick to score three more times with the help of a throwing error by center fielder Adam Jones.
“That’s definitely a part of our game, the ability to move runners with speed on the base paths and put pressure on the defense,” Kendrick said. “When we’re hitting the ball well, we’re going first to third and creating more opportunities. Not only can we steal bags and bunt, we have a lot of guys who are aggressive on the base paths and can take that extra base.”
Aybar had two bunt singles, and he and Kendrick, the Nos. 1 and 2 batters in the order, combined for five hits, two runs and three RBI.
The Angels also got a sizable contribution from Trumbo, who was making his first career start in left field and his first start in the field in a week. Trumbo doubled home a run in the first and was 2 for 4.
Pujols was one of just two starters to go hitless (Chris Iannetta was the other), but he got on base in the fourth when he was intentionally walked by O’s starter Brian Matusz to load the bases. It was Pujols’ first walk in 10 games, an oddity indeed.
So was the appearance of closer Jordan Walden in the ninth. The Angels were the only team in the AL without a save this season, but Walden closed out the game despite walking a batter and throwing a wild pitch.
He also preserved the win for starter Jerome Williams, who worked into the seventh inning but left after throwing 102 pitches, the last of which was a two-run homer to Reimold.
His lead was safe by the time he came out. There were no home runs, but the Angels proved they know how to win in other ways.
“We got some bunts down, we hit with guys in scoring position,” Scioscia said. “It was a game probably more like the way we can play on the offensive side than the way we’ve been playing.”
Can they keep it going? That’s their next challenge.