Albert Pujols, the heavy legged, 35-year-old slugger with a balky left hamstring, got such a good jump on a key eighth-inning stolen base Tuesday night that it looked like he might swipe second base and third, all on the same pitch.
"Was that a sick jump, or what?" speedy center fielder Mike Trout said after Pujols sparked the Angels’ 5-2 victory over the Colorado Rockies with, of all things, his legs. "That might have been the best jump ever. I counted at least two seconds before the pitcher even went home."
With the score tied, 2-2, Pujols snapped an 0-for-13 skid with a sharp single to left field off reliever Rafael Betancourt to lead off the eighth. David Freese took a strike, swung and missed for strike two, fouled a pitch off and took a ball.
When Betancourt, pitching from the stretch, came to a set position before his next pitch, Pujols took off for second and was three or four steps toward the next base when the right-hander, who never saw Pujols go, threw to the plate.
Pujols stole second without a throw. Freese struck out, but Erick Aybar walked, and Pujols scored on Johnny Giavotella’s single to right-center field, the second baseman’s sixth game-winning RBI of the season, second-most in the American League behind Seattle’s Nelson Cruz.
Matt Joyce capped the three-run rally with a hit-and-run, two-run double to right-center, but it was Pujols who jump-started a victory that extended Colorado’s losing streak to 10 games.
“As much as we’ve been struggling, especially myself, you try to do whatever it takes to take that extra base — it’s a lot easier to score from second than first,” Pujols said. “Whatever I can do to help this club, I do.
“I know a lot of people look at the big things, like home runs, but the little things sometimes win games, like taking an extra base, playing good defense. If, at the end of the night, you’ve helped your team win, that’s what matters to me.”
It was the 99th career stolen base for Pujols, who is one stolen base shy of joining Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays as the only players in major league history with at least 500 homers, a .300 career average and 100 stolen bases.
“That would be a great accomplishment,” Pujols said. “I don’t go as much as I used to because of injuries. Maybe I’ll get to 100 and shut it down for the rest of my career. I don’t steal a base just to get a base. I try to do it in key situations where I can help the team win.”
The eighth inning Tuesday night was definitely one of those situations.
“He’s trying to make things happen,” Trout said. “I guess he had something on that pitcher, that he only looked over once or whatever. He’s tried it before. It was pretty impressive. For sure, it sparked us. No one expected that when he got to first base. But it was a big play in the game for us.”
So was Giavotella’s big hit, which is becoming par for the course for the 5-foot-8, 185-pound second baseman who is batting .283 with 13 runs batted in on the season.
“He’s a great little player, he’s exciting,” Pujols said of Giavotella. “He reminds me a lot of David Eckstein, guys who always have that chip on their shoulder, who are having fun, enjoying the game, and before you know it, they’re getting big hits.”
Giavotella said the key to coming up big in big situations is “trying to dial it down even more. The pressure is on the pitcher. I can’t put any pressure on myself. I stick to my approach, which is to get a good pitch to hit, hit line drives up the middle, not try to do too much, stick to my strengths.
“It does take some experience. I’ve failed many times with runners in scoring position. I’ve learned that the best strategy in those situations is to relax, take a deep breath and trust your talents.”