The Washington Nationals have seemed to bring out the best in Albert Pujols dating back to when the franchise was located in Montreal, and that was no different in the latest meeting as the slugger added to his list of career accomplishments.
Pujols will get his first crack at facing Gio Gonzalez on Wednesday night as the Los Angeles Angels look to complete a three-game sweep of the Nationals in D.C.
In 67 games against Washington, Pujols has hit .351 with 24 homers. That batting average is his best against any opponent other than Pittsburgh, and the home run total is the highest against any club other than the Pirates, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee, Cincinnati or Houston – the former Central Division foes he faced most often when he played in St. Louis.
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The 34-year-old Pujols became the third-youngest in major league history to reach 500 homers after hitting two in Los Angeles’ 7-2 victory on Tuesday. He’s the first player in baseball history to hit Nos. 499 and 500 in the same game, blasting a three-run shot in the first and a two-run homer in the fifth.
”I knew this year, it was going to happen, whether it was tonight, tomorrow, two months from now," said Pujols, who has all eight of his homers this season in his last 13 games. ”I was pretty emotional running the bases."
Pujols has never faced Gonzalez (3-1, 2.88 ERA), who is coming off a great outing against Pujols’ former team.
Gonzalez continued his solid start to the season by giving up one run and striking out seven through seven innings of a 3-1 win over St. Louis on Friday.
"Gio threw the ball well against a really tough lineup," manager Matt Williams said. "He was aggressive in the strike zone, he threw a good fastball. He threw his curveball occasionally to keep them off balance."
The left-hander hasn’t faced the Angels (10-10) since being acquired from Oakland on Dec. 23, 2011, but he’s won his last four starts against them with a 0.96 ERA. Gonzalez beat Jered Weaver in a pitchers’ duel in his most recent outing against Los Angeles on Sept. 23, 2011, and the two will oppose each other again in this contest.
Weaver (1-2, 4.74) is coming off his best start of the season after allowing one run and three hits in six innings of an 11-6 win at Detroit on Friday. He had allowed at least four runs in each of his previous three outings, though opponents are hitting just .195 against him on the season.
"Hopefully, I’ll build off this one," Weaver said. "I’m trying to find that happy medium – not trying to do to much, trying to stay within myself and pitch."
The right-hander has never faced the Nationals, though he’s seen former Minnesota outfielder Denard Span plenty. Span is just 2 for 22 with eight strikeouts off Weaver in his career, and he went 0 for 3 on Tuesday as Washington (11-10) mustered just two runs and three hits for the second straight day.
The Nationals have hit .170 and have been outscored 26-13 while dropping four of six.
Howie Kendrick went 2 for 4 on Tuesday and is hitting .438 with two homers and seven RBIs during a seven-game hitting streak for Los Angeles, which has won four of six.
The Angels have won five straight meetings with Washington dating back to 2011.