By the time he approached the plate with two men on in a tied eighth inning Friday night at Globe Life Park, Albert Pujols had seen several breaking balls and made solid contact with none of them, striking out twice and weakly popping out once.
So, when Jeremy Jeffress flipped in a first-pitch knuckle curve, Pujols' ferocious swing said it all. The ball met his barrel and soared into the humid Texas night, some 436 feet. The 594th home run of his still-unfurling career supplied the Angels a 6-3 victory, their fifth consecutive win in this still-nascent season.
"Albert's gonna be Albert," Mike Trout said. "In big situations, he comes up clutch. His first few at-bats, he was missing some pitches he usually hits. But he was aggressive on that at-bat and got a pitch to hit.
"Runner in scoring position, he's going to be hacking."
Earlier, Trout clobbered a two-run shot in the sixth to temporarily push the Angels ahead. Even earlier, Angels leadoff hitter Yunel Escobar blasted Rangers right-hander Nick Martinez's first pitch 438 feet, beyond the bleachers in left-center field.
Angels starter Tyler Skaggs gave up consecutive singles to Delino DeShields Jr. and Elvis Andrus to begin the bottom half of the first, and Carlos Gomez coaxed DeShields in with a sacrifice fly to short center field. Rougned Odor approached next, and amid his at-bat, a Skaggs curveball bounced away from Angels catcher Martin Maldonado.
Andrus attempted to take second base. Maldonado, as he often does, threw him out. Two called strikes later, Skaggs was out of the inning, with one run on his ledger but only 13 pitches. Skaggs struck out four over the next three innings and gave up only a single in that span.
In the fifth, he yielded a one-out double to Ryan Rua, then struck out Joey Gallo and induced a flyout from Jonathan Lucroy.
On the curveball with which he struck out Gallo, Skaggs felt a pinch between his ribs and his right hip, and he told manager Mike Scioscia when he returned to the dugout.
"Everything feels fine, but I knew if I kept pitching it was going to get worse," Skaggs said. "So I decided to say something."
He said the possibility of an MRI examination had not been broached.
"We're just not gonna take any chances right now and let him keep pitching there," Scioscia said. "We'll see how he feels in a couple days."
Immediately, right-hander Yusmeiro Petit let in two runs on a double bookended by singles. Scioscia went to right-handers Deolis Guerra and David Hernandez for the next two innings, and neither man allowed a baserunner. In for the ninth, left-hander Jose Alvarez did the same for his first career save.
Skaggs threw only 76 pitches over his five innings. In his three most recent outings after a sluggish start to the season, he has struck out 19, walked only four, and given up only three runs.
After Pujols' eighth-inning blast, first baseman C.J. Cron fouled a fastball off the top of his left foot. He remained in the game to notch a single, then exited in favor of Jefry Marte.
"I don't ever want to come out of baseball games," Cron said. "Unfortunately, I couldn't really move."
Cron said X-rays showed no break in his foot, but he expected it to take time for the inflammation to dwindle.
As the hosts of a series finale against Oakland on Thursday in Anaheim, the Angels possessed the right to start the game when they wanted. Had they played it at 12:35 p.m., their standard Sunday start time, they would have arrived in Texas before midnight and obtained a normal night's sleep.
But tickets to weekday afternoon games are not thought to sell well, particularly during the school year.
Instead, the Angels started the game at 7:05 p.m, much to the chagrin of several players who requested anonymity because they did not want their names attached to criticism of ownership. The team announced it sold 37,603 tickets, far more than the four previous games on the homestand.
The Angels played quickly and won. Still, they arrived at their hotel in suburban Dallas after 5 a.m. local time Friday. Buses to the ballpark left later than usual. Skaggs took a commercial flight Thursday night, a staple practice in such a situation.