Pujols carries Angels’ offense
He shows more signs of breaking out of his slump, driving in five runs against Phillies.
No matter how good Mike Trout is — and the center fielder has been transcendent since he reached the big leagues for good in 2012, with two American League most valuable player awards and three runner-up finishes — he alone cannot lead the Angels to a World Series.
That’s been proved over the last five years, when the Angels have had the best player in baseball and zero playoff victories to show for it.
Trout needs help, and though it will take numerous impact players to push the Angels toward pennant contention, a late-career revival by Albert Pujols would be a good start.
The 37-year-old slugger entered Tuesday with a .233 average, .280 on-base percentage and .385 slugging percentage, all career lows on his Hall-of-Fame resume, but he is beginning to stir.
Pujols gave his team a lead with a two-out, two-run double in the fifth inning Tuesday night, and he put the game out of reach with a three-run homer in the seventh, driving in five runs of a 7-1 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies in Angel Stadium.
This came on the heels of Sunday’s two-homer game in Toronto, a power surge that ended an 0-for-24 skid and, combined with Tues-
day night’s shot, gave Pujols 608 career homers, one shy of Sammy Sosa for eighth place on baseball’s all-time list.
“I don’t think about the struggles, it’s as simple as that,” Pujols said. “I don’t care what you guys say or write, I play for God, family and friends.”
Pujols’ big night — he has six hits and nine RBIs in his last two games — pushed the Angels to within four games of Kansas City for the second wild-card spot and gave him a team-high 68 RBIs on the season.
“This is what Albert can do,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “When he gets locked in and is on some pitches, he can put a team on his shoulders and carry it.”
Pujols’ power ensured that Ricky Nolasco, who allowed one run and six hits in six somewhat shaky innings, striking out five and walking two, would earn the win to improve to 5-12.
Nolasco escaped a two-on, one-out jam in the first after he committed an error that led to Philadelphia’s run, and he escaped a two-on, no-out jam in the sixth to preserve a 2-1 lead, getting Maikel Franco and Nick Williams to fly out and striking out Hyun-Soo Kim with a splitfingered fastball.
“Ricky improvised, and he pitched,” Scioscia said. “He didn’t have his best stuff, but when he needed to make a pitch, he did, whether it was a fastball he located or spinning the ball with a good split. He scratched and clawed and got through six innings. He got some big outs.”
So did rookie reliever Keynan Middleton in the seventh, after Andrew Knapp led off with a double to left and speedy leadoff man Cesar Hernandez reached on an infield single, a grounder Andrelton Simmons fielded, pumped a throw to second and threw late to first on.
Freddy Galvis flied to center, advancing Knapp to third, but Middleton struck out No. 3 hitter Aaron Altherr swinging at a 98mph four-seam fastball and cleanup man Tommy Joseph looking at a 93-mph two-seam fastball to snuff out the rally and preserve a 2-1 lead.
Kaleb Cowart led off the bot- tom of the seventh with a single, Trout singled with one out, and Pujols, facing reliever Mark Leiter, curled his 17th homer of the season around the left-field foul pole for a 5-1 lead. The Angels tacked on two more runs in the eighth.
The Angels put together a quick-strike, two-out rally in the fifth that Yunel Escobar, who departed in the eighth because of upper back tightness, sparked with a single to center. Trout walked, and Pujols sliced a double to right to score both runners for a 2-1 Angels lead.
Asked if he was looking for something outside, Pujols said, “No, I just closed my eyes and hit it the other way.”
Hernandez opened the game with an infield single, and Galvis flied to center. Altherr tapped a grounder between the mound and first base, an easy play for Nolasco. The ball squirted out of the pitcher’s glove for an error. Joseph grounded an RBI single to left to give Philadelphia a 1-0 lead.
MIKE TROUT of the Angels scores on a double by Albert Pujols.
CESAR HERNANDEZ of the Phillies leads off the game with a single, beating the throw to first baseman Luis Valbuena of the Angels. Hernandez scored the game’s first run.