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Albert Pujols shows why he’s considered Angels’ ‘best baserunner’ at age 39

At 39 years old, Angels designated hitter Albert Pujols isn’t as agile as he was 10 years ago, when he won consecutive National League most valuable player awards from 2008 to 2009 and hit at least 44 doubles in each of those seasons.

But his instincts on the base paths haven’t suffered from age. It was evident Monday night in a 6-3 loss to the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park.

Perhaps the brightest spot in an otherwise listless game came in the fourth inning, when third base coach Mike Gallego stationed himself on the grass off the third base line, wheeling his arm as Pujols chugged home from second base on a sinking line drive hit up the middle by catcher Jonathan Lucroy. Pujols rounded third base, kept his momentum going as he went up the line and didn’t brake until he needed to slide feet-first into home plate.

By the time the throw from outfielder Mallex Smith bounced over the pitcher’s mound and reached catcher Omar Narvaez, Pujols had enough acceleration to beat Narvaez’s tag and score the Angels’ second run of the night.

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According to MLB’s Statcast system, Pujols ran at a pace of 23.7 feet per second during that jaunt around the bases. The average baserunning sprint speed is 27 feet per second.

“You don’t have to be fast to be a good baserunner,” said Gallego, the former major leaguer who’s in his first year as the Angels’ third base coach but fourth in the organization. “You just have to know the situations. He’s in tune with every pitch and every out in every inning.”

Pujols had doubled off Mariners starter Felix Hernandez to get into scoring position for Lucroy. He got enough of his bat on an 80 mph curveball and sliced it to the warning track in right-center field. Right fielder Mitch Haniger laid out on his side to attempt a play, but the ball carried and ricocheted off the wall and onto the grass.

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Anyone else might have tried to stretch the hit into a triple because it would have been easier to score, but Pujols stood at second, unwilling to test his luck.

“I had him going three on [that] one,” said Justin Bour.

The decision paid off two batters later. The run, his second of the night, helped the Angels cut the Mariners’ lead in half.

Pujols also deftly avoided getting caught between bases in the second inning, after he hit a single and reached second base on a throwing error by left fielder Domingo Santana. He tagged up at second base on a fly ball to center field, took a small lead and then decided not to test Smith’s arm. But when Lucroy grounded out to the bag at third base on the next play, Pujols advanced easily. He scored when new Angels outfielder Brian Goodwin legged out a two-out infield single to the right side of the diamond.

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Vintage Pujols gamed the system. The rest of the Angels, who have batted only .188 through the first five games of the season, couldn’t say the same. But they could marvel, for at least a moment, at their teammate’s success.

“He already is the best baserunner on our team by far, just the reads and stuff that he does,” pitcher Tyler Skaggs said. “It got us our first run and our second run, pretty much the same thing. It was impressive. Good to know he’s feeling good.”

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maria.torres@latimes.com

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