Pujols' torrid May making skeptics look silly
ANAHEIM -- If anyone thought Albert Pujols was going to vaporize into thin air, they didn't watch his career with the Cardinals. At the end of April -- his first month with the Angels -- Albert had zero homers and four RBIs.He was adjusting to a new team, a new league and a new town. And it showed. "Well, I knew it was going to take a couple of months for me to get used to all this," Pujols said on Tuesday night after his two-run homer powered the Angels to a 5-1 victory over the Yankees. "Still, it's a long season and I've got to continue to do what it takes for us to win." That time for Pujols to be comfortable in his new environment seems to be now. May has been a different story and the right-handed power hitter who was paid $240 million over 10 years as a free agent is certainly sad to see it end. Including the homer he crushed off Andy Pettitte into the left-field bullpen at Angel Stadium on Tuesday night, Pujols has eight homers and 24 RBIs in the last 29 days. Five of those homers were hit in the last eight games. It's no coincidence that the Angels have won all eight. If that's not vintage Pujols then it's hard to say what is. "We're glad to be seeing it [happen] in a timely fashion," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Nobody prepares the way he does. He has some kind of a routine. He prepares. He studies. He works hard. You can see why he's been so successful and why we felt he was going to find his stroke." The doubters wondered whether Pujols could make the transition to the American League from his comfort zone in the National League, whether the pressure of the big contract was too much even for his broad shoulders. Not now. "There probably were a lot of factors that came into it," Scioscia said. "It was not just one simple thing about why he was struggling. Obviously, coming into a new environment, seeing new hitting backgrounds. There are a lot of things that tug and pull you when you're a high-profile guy like Albert and you cross leagues. But he's made a quick study of it. He'll be fine." Should anyone have thought any differently? This is a guy who helped the Cardinals win the 2006 and 2011 World Series, hitting three homers alone in Game 3 last Oct. 22 at Texas. Only two other sluggers -- Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson -- have done that. He's a three-time NL MVP and a nine-time All-Star first baseman. The resume goes on and on and those are just the highlights. It's why the Angels outbid the Cardinals by about $30 million and wooed Pujols to Southern California. Pujols has remained in constant contact with Tony La Russa, his former Cardinals manager who retired at the end of the last postseason and confided that moving on has been daunting. "He's not accepting this or tolerating this any more than at any other time when he's not himself," La Russa said earlier this month. "But [the contract] is a distraction. If you care at all -- and he cares -- it's a distraction." It's not as if he hasn't struggled before. For Pujols watchers, April was a good month for him in 2011. It was in May that he slumped with just two homers and 13 RBIs. But by the time the season was done and the Cardinals came roaring back to pass the Braves and capture the NL's Wild Card berth on a wild and crazy final day of the regular season, Albert had 37 homers and 99 RBIs. Last year, Pujols had come off a series of injuries and even then the doubters began to worry about his staying power. But Pujols, now 32, said he didn't change his routine then and he didn't change it this April as the month plodded on like he was dragging around so much heavy baggage. The Angels weren't winning and that bothered Pujols even more than his own struggles. They finished April 8-15, nine games behind the first place Rangers in the AL West. "I changed nothing," he said. "Why should I change if it's been working for the last 11 years? Just because I struggled one month I'm going to change? I struggled last year, too, exactly, so why should I change?" Tuesday night, he looked like he was right on it. He was 2-for-4, raising his batting average from a low of .194 on May 4 to .238 now. His slugging percentage has jumped from .304 at the end of April to .406. Pujols' eighth-inning ground single to left was hit so hard it virtually ate up Yankees third baseman Eric Chavez. And in the third inning, when Pettitte, the veteran left-hander, hung a breaking pitch on the inside of the plate, Pujols didn't miss it and hit the 453rd homer of his career. "He's tough, there's no doubt," Pettitte said about Pujols. "He's a great hitter and he's hot. If he's looking for a ball right now and he guesses right where you're going to put it, he's going to hurt you with it." Hurt he did, the Big Hurt, to steal a nickname once reserved for Frank Thomas. To think it would resolve any differently was just utter nonsense.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.