The game might not have come easy to Albert Pujols, but the results did.
In his first 14 games in the major leagues, he hit .400. He was the rookie of the year, in a unanimous vote. In his 11 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, he won the most-valuable-player award three times. He finished among the top 10 every time.
He hit .300 every year except one, when he hit .299. He drove in 100 runs every year except one, when he drove in 99. He hit 30 home runs every year, 40 home runs in six of those years.
The results have not come easy to Pujols since he joined the Angels. He reported for work Thursday with a .235 batting average. But the day was a good one, for him and his teammates.
He hit a home run, and so did Matt Joyce. Chris Iannetta hit one too, a grand slam. The beleaguered Angels offense piled up 12 runs — matching its total of the previous five games — in a 12-2 rout of the Detroit Tigers.
The victory might have been painful for the Angels. Erick Aybar, the Angels' shortstop and leadoff batter, left the game in the fifth inning, after his left hamstring tightened while he was running to first base.
Aybar, who has started every game at shortstop this season, might be the player the Angels can ill afford to lose for an extended period — Mike Trout excepted, of course. The Angels need to marshal whatever resources they can toward a trade for a big bat, not deplete them because they need to trade for a shortstop as well.
The Angels replaced Aybar on Thursday with Rule 5 pick Taylor Featherston, who would not be a long-term solution. Their triple-A shortstops are Josh Rutledge, 26, who started 58 games for the Colorado Rockies last year in place of injured Troy Tulowitzki, and Ryan Jackson, 27, who has started one major league game at shortstop.
Aybar, 31, is batting .273 overall and .314 this month. The Angels had hoped to stabilize their batting order by dropping outfielder Kole Calhoun from first to fourth and using Aybar in the leadoff spot.
Pujols would be in the Hall of Fame if he retired today. But his contract with the Angels extends through 2021, and he intends to play through.
He is 35, the oldest player on the team. He freely acknowledges Trout is the best player on this team.
"Players like him come along every 25 years," Pujols said.
The San Diego Padres this week walked Trout intentionally — when first base was not open — to face Pujols in a game-winning situation.
Trout, who bats ahead of Pujols, has been walked intentionally seven times this season. Pujols, who once was walked intentionally 44 times in St. Louis, has been walked intentionally twice this season.
That .235 batting average will rise. Pujols is sure of it. The Angels are sure of it, so much so that Manager Mike Scioscia even dropped "BABIP" into the conversation Thursday.
Pujols' batting average on balls in play is .229. The projection for him is .264. He strikes out more and walks less than he did in St. Louis, but he hits line drives at a comparable percentage.
He might not have another .350 batting average in him — he had two such seasons in St. Louis — but he should have a .250 season in him, at least.
"He's hit the ball hard. He's going to eventually level out," said Scioscia, who added the bat speed has not slowed.
"We just have to stay the course with a guy like Albert."
Pujols has become a mentor to Trout. The advice Pujols gives to Trout is the advice Pujols got as a rookie — and, now, the advice he finds himself benefiting from once again, a decade and a half later.
If the at-bat is a bad one, let it go. If the at-bat is a good one but the line drive does not fall, let it go. Those were lessons he learned in St. Louis.
"They helped me to separate at-bats," Pujols said, "and a Hall of Fame manager like Tony La Russa. You can't take every at-bat out there. That's what I try to tell Trout and Aybar."