Albert Pujols is true to himself, so true that he could not allow even the slightest of smiles to betray whatever excitement might be stirring inside his heart.
This could be the night. The countdown could be over. The numbers could roll over.
There are four numbers on the big green Pujols sign at Angel Stadium. The 2 will turn into a 3. The other three numbers will turn from 999 to 000.
Pujols needs two hits for 3,000. Thursday could be the night. He must be excited.
“No, not really,” Pujols said late Wednesday.
“It’s going to happen one day. What am I focused on? My focus is on coming here and trying to help this ballclub win. This is not the last game of the season. It would be nice to do it tomorrow. If it doesn’t happen, it will happen one day.”
Pujols got two hits Wednesday. If he matches that Thursday, the party is on. If not, Pujols 3K figures to be an out-of-state affair, with the Angels playing their next five games in Seattle and Colorado.
You might want him to hit 3,000 at home more than he does.
“It would be great for the fans that support you every day, but I don’t want to put that pressure on myself,” Pujols said. “My goal is to try to go out there and try to help this ballclub to win.”
What am I focused on? My focus is on coming here and trying to help this ballclub win. This is not the last game of the season.
The Angels have been here before. So has Pujols. He hit his 600th home run last June at Angel Stadium. He prefers to reach milestones before he talks about them.
“He was the same way when he hit 600,” Mike Trout said.
One of Pujols’ hits Wednesday was a home run. That put him at 620. The only players with 600 home runs and 3,000 hits: Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Alex Rodriguez.
“Everybody is almost in awe of it,” pitcher Andrew Heaney said.
Everybody, that is, except Pujols, at least outwardly.
Shortstop Andrelton Simmons appears more enthused for Pujols than Pujols is for himself.
“He’s focused on having good at-bats and trying to help us win games,” Simmons said. “I don’t doubt that’s what he’s thinking.
“But everybody knows. It’s like the elephant in the room. Nobody really says much about it. Just let him play.”
Chris Tillman starts for the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday. Pujols has four hits in 15 at-bats against Tillman, which is not so great for Pujols. But Tillman has a 7.03 earned-run average this season, which could be really great for Pujols, and for the chance to share the moment with the fans.
We all cheer for him. We all want him to get it done so we can celebrate with him, be part of that special moment.
“Hopefully, he can do it tomorrow and finish it at home,” Simmons said Wednesday night. “We all cheer for him. We all want him to get it done so we can celebrate with him, be part of that special moment.”
It would be inaccurate to say Pujols is invisible in Anaheim.
But it would not be inaccurate to say he is barely visible here. This is Trout’s team, and Shohei Ohtani’s show. The presence of Mark Trumbo in the visiting dugout this series reminds us that Pujols might have been the best player in baseball with the St. Louis Cardinals, but has never been the best player on his own team with the Angels.
Trumbo had that distinction in Pujols’ first month with the Angels. Then Trout showed up.
The spotlight is about to find its old friend. Of the more than 19,000 men to play in the major leagues, only nine have hit 600 home runs, and only four of them have 3,000 hits as well.
That is worth a warm ovation from the home fans — the kind he used to enjoy all the time in St. Louis — immediately after he gets the milestone hit. If that hit is going to come at home, it’s Thursday or bust.
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin