Every now and then, Albert Pujols reminds us of what he once did on a remarkably regular basis, unleashing the efficient, potent swings that were his trademark when he was voted the National League most valuable player three times and was one of the top power hitters of his generation, or any other.
He has been providing an extended flashback to those days, batting .319 with 30 runs batted in in a 47-game stretch from July 4 through Tuesday.
“I think you're seeing Albert closer to where he was in his heyday,” Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. “He's anchored the middle of our lineup.”
When Pujols' legs are strong and he can drive the ball, he's still fearsome at 34. And he said he has been healthy lately, a welcome change. He underwent knee surgery after the 2012 season and had to cut short his luckless 2013 season because of plantar fasciitis, leaving a trail of career lows in significant categories, including batting average (.258), on-base percentage (.330) and slugging percentage (.437).
“Last year was last year. I flipped that page,” he said Tuesday, before he victimized the Miami Marlins for three hits and two RBIs and extended his hitting spree to seven for 16 over four games.
“2014, this is a new season. And that's it. I don't look at the past. The past is like a wind that comes and goes.”
If last season was an ill wind for Pujols, this one has become a pleasant breeze that carries hints of his old exploits.
“I feel great. I think next year will be better but coming through a couple of injuries in 2012 and 2013, to be able to help my ballclub to win, that's my job,” he said. “Nobody feels 100% at this point of the season, but anything I can do to help is always a bonus.”
For anyone else, Pujols' stats would reflect a fine season. Before Wednesday, he was batting .277 with 32 doubles, 23 home runs, 71 runs and 80 RBIs in a team-high 519 at-bats. His slugging percentage was .472 and his on-base percentage was .333.
But that's still short of what the Angels expected when he signed that 10-year, $240-million contract in December 2011. And everything he does is measured against what he used to do — the 10 consecutive seasons he drove in more than 100 runs for the St. Louis Cardinals, the two NL home run titles, and the five times he led the NL in runs. It's a comparison he can't win. Few players could.
“He hasn't fallen off that far,” hitting coach Don Baylor said. “He's going to end up probably with 100 RBIs and 30 homers. Some guys have a complete dropoff, and his is not a complete dropoff. He's in the middle of the lineup. He's productive.
“You look at his strikeouts. You say, he's a power hitter, right? But he has  strikeouts. He puts the ball in play. He's just a gamer. He plays injured and you don't know it. He's a great player. He's a Hall of Fame player.”
Age and mileage on his legs have, inevitably, dimmed Pujols' brilliance. But he's far from washed up, and said he learned to ignore critics who snipe from afar without all the facts.
“Those genius think that, why they don't come and try and hit a ball? They're sitting behind a desk or punching numbers in a computer or writing in the paper. That's what their job is, to try and be negative towards the players,” he said. “But they don't know that this game is tough. This game is not easy. You can be 100% and it's not easy — imagine when you have injuries. At the end of my career, I will know what I have accomplished in this game. At the end of my career, then we can look back. If I can play the seven years I have left on my contract we'll see where we're at.”
He's in a pretty good place at the moment.
“I don't have to prove anybody anything,” he said. “My numbers speak for themselves.”
The Angels need those numbers to speak even louder now that they're without two-fifths of their pitching rotation because of injury. They'll need their offense as they try to win the American League West and avoid a perilous one-game wild-card playoff, and Pujols must be a big part of that.
“I think we have too many great players in this locker room for you to put pressure on yourself. I'm just one of those 25 guys that want to accomplish the dream, and that's to win a championship,” he said. “I just want to try and stay healthy the rest of the season. Everybody has goals. My main goal is to try and help this ballclub get to the postseason. Number-wise, that's going to be there at the end of the season if you stay healthy. And hopefully in the next five weeks I can come through a little bit better to help this ballclub win.”Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times