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Albert Pujols still chasing No. 3,000 after Angels rout Orioles

Albert Pujols still chasing No. 3,000 after Angels rout Orioles
Angels first baseman Albert Pujols celebrates after hitting a double for his 2,999th career hit during the second inning of a game against the Orioles on Thursday at Angel Stadium. (Gina Ferazzi / Los AngelesTimes)

Mike Trout ran across the clubhouse, from his locker to the one occupied by Albert Pujols.

Pujols had not yet taken the field for what would be this historic evening. He had not even taken batting practice. So maybe it would not be accurate to label it a congratulatory call, but why the heck not?

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Erick Aybar, the Angels' old shortstop, the guy who used to sit next to Pujols in the clubhouse, was on the phone. The 3,000th hit would come sooner or later for Pujols, and Aybar was calling with a wish of good luck.

Trout charged over, yelled something at Aybar over FaceTime. Trout laughed. Pujols laughed. This would be a good night.

But, alas, not a milestone night. With a double in the second inning, Pujols got to 2,999 hits. He went hitless in his three remaining plate appearances, and the chase for 3,000 will resume on Friday in Seattle.

"One of these days, we are all going to celebrate it," Pujols said.

All was not lost for the Angels, not by any means. They pounded the Baltimore Orioles 12-3 to move into a first-place tie with the Houston Astros in the American League West. Justin Upton and Luis Valbuena had three hits, Trout tripled and singled, and the Angels piled up five runs in the first inning and all 12 by the fourth inning.

Of the 19,246 men to play in the major leagues, only three have 600 home runs and 3,000 hits. Willie Mays got there first, in 1970. Hank Aaron joined him in 1971. Alex Rodriguez got there two years ago.

Albert Pujols drops his bat after getting a hit in the second inning off of Orioles pitcher Miguel Castro.
Albert Pujols drops his bat after getting a hit in the second inning off of Orioles pitcher Miguel Castro. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
A centerfield sign shows Albert Pujols' hit count after his second-inning double against the Orioles.
A centerfield sign shows Albert Pujols' hit count after his second-inning double against the Orioles. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The fourth and newest member of the 600-3,000 club will be Jose Alberto Pujols.

The home fans almost certainly will not see the moment in person, as the Angels play their next five games in Seattle and Colorado. The fans tried to will Pujols to 3,000, loud in each at-bat and standing and cheering in his final at-bat in the eighth inning, but he flied out.

"I think they are aware of the history that is about to happen," Pujols said. "Unfortunately, it didn't happen tonight. It didn't happen this week. I had some opportunities to make it happen here.

"At the end of the day, it is not about me. It's whenever the Lord wants. His time is perfect. My time is not."

Pujols will join Hall of Famer Rod Carew as the only players to get to 3,000 hits in an Angels uniform.

Carew was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a member of the Minnesota Twins. Pujols almost certainly will be inducted into the Hall of Fame as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, the team with which he got his first 2,073 hits.

In the fourth inning, as he approached the plate in his first shot at 3,000, the crowd rewarded him with a standing ovation. It was wonderfully organic. No carnival barker on the public address system, no cartoonish clapping hands on the video board, just a crowd well aware it could be sitting in on history.

The umpires put a special ball in play. The fans stayed on their feet, many on their toes, straining for the best position to get a shot on their cellphone. The Angels players rushed to the top step of the dugout, in position to rush the field if Pujols got a hit.

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Pujols took two balls, and the crowd booed. He fouled off the next five pitches. He was then hit on his rear end with a pitch. The crowd booed. One batter later, when the Orioles removed pitcher Miguel Castro, the crowd booed him again.

Pujols got his next chance in the sixth inning, the crowd louder and more insistent in its encouragement. He fouled out.

"We're all waiting for that one more hit," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.

Pujols so dominated the spotlight that Angels rookie Jaime Barria went almost unnoticed in extending his no-hit bid through three, then four, then five innings. With one out in the sixth inning, Trey Mancini singled for the Orioles' first hit, and the crowd saluted Barria with a nice ovation. Barria gave up three more hits in the inning, his last for the evening, but still earned his second major league victory.

Fortune did not smile on Pujols in the first inning, but it smiled so widely on his teammates that it guaranteed he would have more than a fair chance to get 3,000 on this night.

Of the first seven batters, Pujols was the only one not to reach base. He grounded out.

But the Angels battered Baltimore starter Chris Tillman and batted around in the inning. They led, 5-0, and Pujols would get to bat again in the second inning.

He hit 2,999 that time, lashing a 96-mph fastball from Castro down the left-field line for a double. Better yet, for a player who still measures his worth in runs batted in, Pujols drove in two runs.

On the all-time lists, Pujols ranks seventh in home runs (620), ninth in runs batted in (1,935) and 32nd in hits (2,999).

"One thing about Albert is he's not looking back and saying, I did this, I did that," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "His nickname, the Machine, is not just for his hitting proficiency, it's like his will to play. He comes out here every day and wants to help his team win a game.

"There is an incredible makeup you need to be that good for that long. He's obviously an exceptional talent. You combine it with all the intangibles, and you see why he's in rarefied air for what he's accomplished. Four guys, in all the careers in baseball of great, great players, to do what he's doing, I think it says it all."

Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin

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