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Angels

Albert Pujols’ revitalized game powering his milestone achievements

Albert Pujols
Angels’ Albert Pujols watches his two-run home run off Tampa Bay Rays’ Ryan Yarbrough during the fifth inning on Thursday in St. Petersburg, Fla.
(Chris O’Meara / Associated Press)

Lost in the shadow of Shohei Ohtani’s latest historical accomplishment was Albert Pujols’ milestone home run in Thursday night’s 5-3 victory.

Pujols cranked a two-run shot 427 feet to left field in the fifth inning off Tampa Bay Rays starter Ryan Yarbrough. The homer was the 645th of his career and his 200th in an Angels uniform.

“It feels like he’s breaking records or seeing new milestones every other day,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara.

There’s some truth behind the exaggeration. Pujols, 39, hasn’t yet been hampered by injury as in years past. His health has enabled him not only to remain a productive member of the daily lineup — he’s played in 58 of the Angels’ 70 games — but to rack up some souvenirs. On his way to becoming the fourth MLB player to reach 2,000 RBIs, he passed Lou Gehrig (1,994) and Barry Bonds (1,996). Then he joined Hank Aaron and Alex Rodriguez as the only players with 600 homers, 3,000 hits and 2,000 RBIs.

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Now the latest: Pujols, who burnished his Hall of Fame credentials during 11 outrageous years with the St. Louis Cardinals, is the sixth player to homer 200 times for two different teams, according to STATS LLC. He also became the seventh to hit 200 home runs in both the American and National Leagues.

“That just shows you how great of a player he is,” Ohtani said.

Age could have caught up with Pujols this year. He has battled lower-body issues since signing a 10-year, $240-million contract with the Angels in December 2011. He lost nearly one-third of his 2018 season to a knee injury that eventually required season-ending surgery.

But after starting his 36th game at first base on Friday night at Tropicana Field, Pujols was on pace to start 100 games in the field. He has not done that since 2012.

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Pujols’ bat has kept up, too. He has hit 12 homers and 10 doubles and driven in 37 runs this season. His .777 on-base-plus-slugging percentage through 57 games is the best it’s been since he appeared in 152 games in 2016 and had a .780 OPS.

Of course, part of Pujols’ return to the field is due to Ohtani’s emergence as the Angels’ everyday designated hitter. But he wasn’t supposed to play so frequently this year. To keep him healthy, the Angels intended to platoon Pujols at first base with the left-handed hitting Justin Bour. Bour, however, started so poorly that he was demoted to the minor leagues for nearly a month. Pujols’ playing time ratcheted up despite Ohtani taking up the majority of the Angels’ DH at-bats.

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Short hops

Angels infielder Tommy La Stella, the leading All-Star game vote-getter among American League second basemen, was scratched from Friday’s lineup because of left forearm tightness. No information was available on the severity of the injury. La Stella’s .304 average and .892 OPS are second on the team. … With outfielder Justin Upton likely to rejoin the Angels in the next week, a roster crunch looms. The Angels will have to decide whether to designate for assignment infielder Wilfredo Tovar or one of outfielders Cesar Puello and Brian Goodwin to make room for Upton on the 40-man roster. … Right-hander Alex Meyer, who had two shoulder surgeries in the span of 14 months before the Angels designated him for assignment last winter, had another setback in his recovery about a week ago, manager Brad Ausmus said. Meyer, who returned to the Angels on a minor league deal this season, is no longer throwing.

maria.torres@latimes.com

@maria_torres3


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