The Angels’ search for offense reached historic levels Wednesday.
Manager Mike Scioscia shuffled the batting order and did so in a manner that put Albert Pujols in a place he hadn’t been in since his rookie season.
Pujols batted fifth and had two hits as the Angels beat Seattle 7-4 on a day when they scored more times than they had in a game since June 21 and produced 17 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
“It takes a lot of pressure off us as starting pitchers or just pitchers in general,” Garrett Richards said. “Anytime you can pitch with a lead, you can let your shoulders down a little bit and just work.”
The Angels’ latest lineup marked the first time since 2001 that Pujols began a game batting lower than fourth.
His most recent start batting fifth had come that year, on July 24, when he played right field for St. Louis in the 97th game of his rookie season.
Scioscia dropped Pujols from cleanup and elevated Andrelton Simmons to the No. 2 spot behind Kole Calhoun.
“Kole and Andrelton at the top did a good job,” Scioscia said. “It fed the guys like we wanted to. If the two guys at the top can keep doing what they’re doing, we’re going to get a lot of opportunities.”
Calhoun finished with three hits, including a home run, and three runs batted in. He scored twice. Luis Valbuena had two hits and two RBIs, and Pujols drove in a run and scored one.
After going hitless in four at-bats Tuesday in his first game off the disabled list, Shohei Ohtani had two hits, including a double, and scored twice.
“I felt a lot better today,” Ohtani said through an interpreter. “I feel like I took a pretty big step forward.”
The victory allowed the Angels (44-43) to avoid falling below .500, which they haven’t had since losing on opening day.
They also slightly trimmed Seattle’s lead for the American League’s second wild-card spot, though the gap between the teams remains a daunting 11 games.
To understand just how discouraging that difference can be, realize that if the Mariners win 38 of their remaining 75 games, the Angels would have to go 49-26 to catch them.
Richards’ most recent start had come in this same stadium three weeks ago when he left after two innings because of what was later diagnosed as a strained hamstring.
After facing only three batters in the first inning Wednesday, he gave up consecutive home runs to Kyle Seager and Ryon Healy in the second as the Mariners took a fan-pleasing and loud 2-1 lead.
But then, Richards seemed to awaken and return to being the pitcher Scioscia often has called “the lead dog.”
“He just kind of exhaled and made some pitches after that,” Scioscia said. “That was a good outing from Garrett.”
Richards (5-4) faced no trouble again until the sixth inning when his error contributed to Seattle scoring again. Reliever Cam Bedrosian gave up the hit that brought home the run but, by then, the Angels had scored six times and were mostly in control.
They did avoid disaster in the seventh by the margin of second baseman David Fletcher’s vertical leap.
After Jose Alvarez gave up a single and walk to start the inning, Hansel Robles relieved him and walked Mike Zunino to load the bases.
Robles rebounded in an instant, striking out Denard Span and Dee Gordon to bring up Jean Segura, who sent a liner toward center field for what appeared to be a two-run single.
Instead, Fletcher jumped and, needing all the 5 feet 10 at which he’s listed, plucked the ball out of the air.
“It’s definitely a good feeling to know I saved a couple runs,” Fletcher said. “Being in that situation, makes it better.”