The ball rifled off the bat of Albert Pujols at 104 mph and shot toward the gap in right-center field in the sixth inning Saturday night, easily clearing the wall for the 618th home run and 2,992nd hit of the Angels slugger's career.
Gone was a streak of 41 innings — dating to an April 14 game in Kansas City — without a lead. Gone three innings later was a brutal four-game losing streak, the Angels flushing two strings of futility down the drain in a 4-3 victory over the San Francisco Giants in Angel Stadium.
"We haven't scored many runs, and we haven't had many leads this week," manager Mike Scioscia said. "There's no doubt that gave us a big lift."
Pujols' homer off Giants left-hander Derek Holland snapped a 2-2 tie and made a winner of Garrett Richards, who gave up two runs and five hits in six innings and matched a career high with 11 strikeouts, nine of them on sliders.
Jim Johnson retired the side in order in the seventh. The Giants pulled to within 4-3 in the eighth on Pablo Sandoval's run-scoring double off Blake Wood. Brandon Belt was intentionally walked, and Scioscia summoned Keynan Middleton, who struck out Evan Longoria with a 97-mph fastball to douse the threat.
Middleton gave up a single to Mac Williamson to lead off the ninth before striking out Brandon Crawford with an 88-mph changeup, Nick Hundley with an 87-mph slider and getting Joe Panik to ground out for his fifth save.
The Giants' 17 strikeouts were the most in a nine-inning game since Aug. 31, 1959, when Dodgers left-hander Sandy Koufax struck out 18 in the Coliseum.
"Key came in in a tough situation," Scioscia said. "Longoria is as tough as they come, but he made good pitches and got out of it."
The Angels entered the week with a seven-game win streak and an explosive offense that led the major leagues in runs, homers and on-base-plus-slugging percentage. Then their bats froze.
In the first four games of a homestand against Boston and San Francisco, the Angels were outscored 35-4, out-hit 52-19 and out-homered 14-2, while batting .151 (19 for 126). They matched a franchise record by giving up eight or more runs in four straight games.
"You think you're going good," Angels center fielder Mike Trout said, "and all of a sudden it just stops."
Was a sense of frustration beginning to set in?
"I don't think so," Pujols said. "You have too many veteran guys here who have been in this situation. If it was the last week of the season and we were pushing for the playoffs, you'd see some frustration. But three weeks into the season? Frustration already? It will be a long season if you start doing that."
Richards, now 3-0 with a 3.46 ERA, gave the Angels a chance with a quality start in which his only blemish was a laborious 28-pitch second inning including two wild pitches and Belt's two-run homer, a ball that nicked off the glove of the leaping Trout and hit above the yellow home-run line in right-center field.
The Angels cut the lead to 2-1 in the bottom of the second when Jefry Marte, one of nine right-handed hitters in the lineup against Holland, crushed a two-out solo homer to left-center.
Trout pulled the Angels even in the third when he dug out a 79-mph curve just below the strike zone over the left-center-field wall for his AL-leading eighth homer in 21 games, putting him on pace for a 62-homer season.
Pujols went with an up-and-away 91-mph fastball and drove it to the opposite field for a game-winning homer that moved him to within eight hits of the 3,000-hit plateau, a milestone that he is clearly cognizant of but trying to push aside.
"Everybody is anxious about it, but I really don't think about it," Pujols said. "It's gonna happen. Whether it's this week, next week, whenever it happens, I'll deal with it. But right now, I'm blocking out that distraction because at the end of the day, it's not about my numbers, it's about helping this organization and this ballclub win."