The Texas Rangers did not want to face Mike Trout with Thursday’s game in the balance. Their manager, Jeff Banister, ordered Trout intentionally walked to load the bases for Albert Pujols with two outs and the score tied in the ninth inning at Angel Stadium.
Pujols jumped into Trout’s arms after he delivered a blast that one-hopped the left-field fence and secured the Angels a 4-3 victory.
The last time Pujols came through in the same situation, last season, he glared into the opposing dugout as he exited the batter’s box. His teammates awaited the same expression this time, but the 36-year-old designated hitter did nothing of the sort.
“You’re showing him up right there,” said Angels left-hander Hector Santiago, their Thursday starter.
“He takes that against him, as if they’re throwing at him. And he answers back every time.”
It was Pujols’ 1,699th career RBI, and his first of 2016. It was the Angels’ first victory, after two losses to the Chicago Cubs that featured little offense.
Santiago struck out seven Rangers in six innings and gave up three runs. The first scored through little fault of his.
Leading off the game, Santiago walked Delino DeShields then induced a routine double-play grounder from Shin-Soo Choo. With the Angels in a defensive shift, though, third baseman Yunel Escobar stood to the right of second base, and he flipped wildly to second upon fielding it. That allowed both DeShields and Choo to be safe. Visibly rattled, Santiago balked both men onward, and DeShields scored on a sacrifice fly.
The Rangers had a run without a hit, and they would total only two hits until the seventh — a solo home run from catcher Robinson Chirinos in the third inning, and a harmless single from Choo in the sixth.
In the seventh, Ian Desmond and Mitch Moreland connected on back-to-back soft singles to right, which brought Angels Manager Mike Scioscia to the mound. After some discussion, out went Santiago, and in ran left-hander Jose Alvarez, who drew Scioscia’s incessant praise this spring. He induced a foul popup and was promptly removed for Fernando Salas, who gave up the game-tying sacrifice fly before ending the inning.
The Angels were encouraged by Santiago’s outing, particularly by his stuff. His fastball averaged 93 mph for much of the night, after averaging 90 a year ago.
“His velocity is up,” Pujols said. “He’s pumping it.”
For the Angels’ first run, Escobar homered off Holland in the third inning. He anticipated a changeup in an 0-1 count and quickly turned on it to power it out to left field.
The Angels strung together their first rally of the season in the fifth. Kole Calhoun drew a walk, Geovany Soto did the same, and, with two outs, Escobar singled through to right to drive in Calhoun. Facing his former team, left fielder Craig Gentry followed with a double down the left-field line, scoring Soto.
Andrelton Simmons doubled in the sixth inning for his first hit as an Angel. It pushed Kole Calhoun to third base, but then Soto lined out to Adrian Beltre at third on the next pitch.
Thursday was Beltre’s 37th birthday, and thrice he made plus plays to take away potential hits from the Angels.
Trout singled twice earlier in the game. After the first, in the first inning, he asked for the baseball in jest when he reached first base, to commemorate his first hit of 2016.
After the second, in the eighth inning, he took off running, and Pujols swung accordingly, in a rare hit-and-run play.
But Calhoun struck out, and Simmons ripped the second pitch he saw directly to Beltre, who started an inning-ending double play.
Closer Huston Street handled the top of the ninth and was awarded the win. He watched Pujols from the dugout, intrigued, when Texas walked Trout.
“You see it in his eyes,” Street said. “You see him pick his game up.”
Follow Pedro Moura on Twitter: @pedromoura