Houstonians still fear Albert Pujols, and on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park he proved that their dread is deserved. At the site of many of his biggest home runs, Pujols launched one more against the Astros, snapping the Angels' six-game losing streak with one vicious swing.
Facing young Houston right-hander Joe Musgrove with two teammates in scoring position, Pujols punished a fifth-inning fastball left high and inside.
The baseball towered up, seemed bound to hit the roof, and eventually curled inside the left-field foul pole. The three-run home run supplied the difference in the Angels 5-2 victory.
"You're always pleased any time you get an opportunity to help the team out to win," Pujols said. "I just put my best swing of the night on it."
Martin Maldonado and Yunel Escobar each singled to start the fifth-inning rally, and Mike Trout lashed a one-out double just beyond a diving George Springer. Up came Pujols.
"It couldn't have come at a better time," left fielderCameron Maybin said. "What a timely big hit. We needed that. We needed something to spark our offense."
The four runs the Angels managed in that inning surpassed their total of three in the previous 40 innings. They had earlier snapped their 21-inning scoreless streak with two outs in the second, when Andrelton Simmons homered to right field for the first time in his career. He claimed to not know the length of the streak, but acknowledged the significance of his hit.
"Getting that run got us going, I feel like," Simmons said.
Simmons had hit 36 previous home runs in the major leagues. The farthest right he'd ever hit one was to dead center.
Simmons said he has often joked that after he hits an 'oppo' homer he's going to retire. "So I'm good" he said. "I'm ready to go home now."
Right-hander Ricky Nolasco survived six innings, sustaining damage only in the third, when Yulieski Gurriel and George Springer each hit solo shots on sinkers Nolasco left up. He permitted a total of eight hits; he scattered six singles, didn't walk an Astro and struck out three.
"Nothing great, nothing terrible," Nolasco said. "I just got through it. It's pitching. That's what it is."
An alert play by Maybin in the fourth inning aided him. Seeking to catch Brian McCann's drive on the fly, Maybin ran back toward the short wall here in left field. Sensing at the last second that he couldn't, he turned, took two steps back and played the carom well enough to throw McCann out trying for second.
"It seemed like a popup," Maybin said. "And then literally as it's coming down I'm thinking, 'Oh no, I can't catch this.' I tried to take a good angle to make the throw. It just worked out." It was his first time manning left field in Houston.
After Nolasco exited, Manager Mike Scioscia had ex-Astro right-hander Bud Norris handle the seventh, and asked left-hander Jose Alvarez to begin the eighth against the left-handed-hitting Josh Reddick.
Houston Manager A.J. Hinch pinch-hit Jake Marisnick, who walked.
So, Scioscia brought in Cam Bedrosian to pitch to Jose Altuve and attempt the first six-out save of his career. The Angels' top reliever worked his way out of the inning on only seven pitches, but encountered trouble on a single and a double in the ninth.
With two outs, Norichika Aoki approached the plate as the potential tying run. He tapped a ball back to Bedrosian, who tossed it over to first baseman C.J. Cron, and the Angels had their first win in seven tries, thanks to one powerful swing from a 37-year-old slugger who entered the night hitting .200 with two-extra base hits.