Mike Trout may be the best all-around player in baseball, a 25-year-old superstar whose career is already on a Hall of Fame trajectory, but when it comes to matters of heart and soul on his own club, the Angels center fielder defers to Albert Pujols.
Despite playing on a pair of 36-year-old legs that Trout said are "banged up" enough to send most players to the disabled list, Pujols has missed only three of 131 games this season, two of them because of a left-hamstring strain in June.
Injuries have slowed the designated hitter on the basepaths, but not in the batter's box. Pujols hit his team-leading 26th home run of the season Monday night and drove in two runs in a 9-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds, giving the slugger 103 RBIs on the season, second-most in the American League.
The homer was the 586th of Pujols' career, tying him with Frank Robinson for ninth place on baseball's all-time list. It also gave Pujols 1,200 extra-base hits, making him the seventh player to reach that threshold, and 1,800 RBIs, making him the 21st player to reach that level.
"Albert is battling — I have to give it to him," said Trout, who homered, doubled and singled Monday night. "He could easily shut it down if he wanted to, but he's going out there every day and producing. He's good to have in the clubhouse. He's a veteran, a Hall of Fame guy, and his presence brings everybody together."
Trout said Pujols' grit has rubbed off on a team that is far out of playoff contention — the Angels (57-74) are 20 1/2 games out in the American League West — but doesn't always act like it.
The Angels have garnered high marks from General Manager Billy Eppler and Manager Mike Scioscia for effort, and they won two of three games against playoff-contending teams in Toronto and Detroit on their last trip.
"Everybody sees it, everybody sees him playing hard every day, and it's tough for him," Trout said of Pujols. "He wants to perform, and he is, but he wants to perform healthy.
"I know for me personally, if my legs were banged up, it would be tough to go out there and hit. He's fighting for this team. We're all trying to grind through it, and he's up there as far as being tough."