ANAHEIM, Calif. — The last time slugger Albert Pujols faced the Orioles in a regular-season matchup, Friday's starter Brian Matusz was in high school, Buck Showalter was in his first year managing the Texas Rangers and outfielder Nick Markakis had been drafted earlier that week by the Orioles in the first round.
It was June 6-8, 2003, and Pujols, then 23, went 7-for-13 with three doubles and six RBIs as his St. Louis Cardinals beat the Orioles in two out of three games at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. In that interleague series, Pujols faced the following Orioles' starters: Rick Helling, Sidney Ponson and Jason Johnson.
In a strange scheduling twist, the Orioles did not play the Cardinals again until last year, when they came to Camden Yards for the first time in their team's history. Pujols, however, was injured and did not play in St. Louis' three-game sweep.
They'll get him this year, though. On Friday night, Pujols and his new team, the Los Angeles Angels, played the Orioles in the first of nine games between the two clubs this season.
When Pujols' 10-year, $240-million deal with the Angels was announced during the winter meetings, Showalter immediately made a point that the Orioles had the unlucky lot of playing in Anaheim twice in 2012 — something the club had done in just one other season in the past five years.
“He is one of the big forces in the game offensively and just his presence,” Showalter said Friday. “He is one of those guys you always know where they are lurking in the lineup. I don't think anybody doubts where he is going to be at the end of the year. He brings great defensive skills, he seems to be a great teammate. He brings a lot more than the statistical return.”
Pujols' start has been the talk of Southern California because he has not been his usual explosive self yet — in his first 54 at-bats as an Angel heading into Friday night he had failed to homer. That's the longest homerless drought to start a season for Pujols in his illustrious 12-season career. He also has never homered against the Orioles.
“His home runs are going to come, there is no question about that,” said Orioles starter Jake Arrieta who is scheduled to face Pujols for the first time Saturday. “But if we can limit him to the singles and doubles and not really allow him to drive in two, three, four runs a game, chances are we are going to have some success. The biggest thing is get the guys out in front of him so when he comes to the plate, the bases are empty and if he does damage it is minimal damage.”
The Orioles' roster has changed significantly since Pujols' last crack at them in the 2003 regular season (the two clubs played plenty of exhibition contests over the years when the Orioles were in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.). Second baseman Brian Roberts, who is on the club's disabled list, is the only player still with the team nine years later. In fact, only Roberts, Jerry Hairston Jr. (Los Angeles Dodgers) and Rodrigo Lopez (Chicago Cubs) played on that 2003 Orioles team and remain in the majors.
But the Orioles do have some players who have competed against Pujols more recently. Four current Orioles pitchers — Matt Lindstrom, Kevin Gregg, Jason Hammel and Luis Ayala — have faced Pujols in their careers. None of those four has given up a homer to Pujols.
Lindstrom, who pitched for the Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies, has faced Pujols the most and has the best numbers. In 10 plate appearances against Lindstrom, Pujols is 1-for-9 with a walk, a double, an RBI and two strikeouts.
“As a pitcher facing arguably one of the best hitters of all time you try to make your pitches and go with your strengths and you kind of just roll the dice with a guy like him because he does hit mistakes well and he'll hit good pitches,” Lindstrom said. “Fortunately I have had some success against him, but that doesn't mean it will continue.”
Hammel is the only Orioles starter who has pitched against Pujols (2-for-4, double, RBI and walk). He pitched Thursday and therefore will not start in this series.
“He is just another guy, but at the same time he is Albert Pujols, one of the greats in this game, not just of our generation but of all time,” Arrieta said. “So any time you face a guy like that it kind of adds to the experience. It's going to be exciting.”Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times