Angels third-base coach Mike Gallego threw up the stop sign as Albert Pujols came screeching into the bag Monday night. Even as Houston Astros shortstop Jose Altuve fumbled the cutoff throw, Gallego left one arm raised to keep Pujols from trying to score.
Ever aware, Pujols broke for home anyway. With his good jump and a well-placed feet-first slide, he scored on the bang-bang play. His veteran move provided a key insurance run in the Angels’ win.
“I didn’t tell him to go,” Gallego said Tuesday. “For him to even think that he can still react and make that move, the instincts are definitely still there. The fire is still in him.”
Pujols, 39, has lost a few steps. Nineteen big league seasons have drained much of his natural athleticism. He can provide semi-consistent power at the plate — he’s fourth on the team with 14 home runs — but requires a meticulous pregame warm-up routine to get loose. He no longer glides around the basepaths either.
Pujols’ instincts, however, remain sharp. His ability to produce is still strong.
“He’s one of the smartest guys we have,” shortstop Andrelton Simmons said. “When we have runners in scoring position, he’s a smart hitter. He can use the whole field to drive runs in those situations. He’s still a valuable piece to this team.”
Monday night was a reminder. Pujols’ hustle home wasn’t the only highlight of his three-hit, three-RBI display. In the fourth, he jumped a high fastball for an RBI double. An inning later, he singled home two more runs.
“You just try to get a good pitch to hit,” Pujols told Fox Sports West, speaking of an approach that has remained simple during his nearly two decades in the game. “Put a good swing, trust my hitting.”
He continued his career dominance over the Astros as well. After picking up three more RBIs with a bases-clearing double Tuesday night, Pujols has 163 RBIs against the club, the most Houston has allowed to an opposing hitter. It added to several other personal-best totals — including at-bats (1,027), hits (294) and home runs (59) — he holds against an Astros franchise that has followed him from the NL Central to the AL West.
Pujols’ numbers against Houston have served as a barometer for his career. He feasted on Astros pitching during his historic 11-year run with the St. Louis Cardinals, hitting .311 with 42 home runs — including his first multi-homer game as a rookie in 2001 — and 112 RBIs in 177 games against Houston. That production has waned since he joined the Angels in 2012. In four of the past six years, Pujols’ hit below .200 against the Astros, mirroring his precipitous decline overall.
This season, however, his slight statistical rebound, especially in the power department, has been matched by better performances against Houston. Monday was the latest example.
Trout ‘cautious’ with calf strain
Still nursing a minor right calf strain, Mike Trout was kept out of the lineup for a second game in a row. “Feels good, obviously just being cautious,” said Trout, who exited Sunday in the third inning and underwent an MRI on Monday. “You want to be smart with this. Got a lot of people telling me calves are no joke.”
Goodwin activated from injured list
Outfielder Brian Goodwin was reinstated from the injured list and inserted into the starting lineup. Goodwin, who is hitting .276, had been out since suffering a right wrist contusion July 3. Outfielder Michael Hermosillo was optioned to triple-A Salt Lake.