OAKLAND, Calif. This will come as no comfort to anyone whose emotions rise and fall with the Angels, but Albert Pujols has no answers. None at all.
Thats a frightening thought. Pujols batting average is in the dumps and his home runs and RBI are not where they should be, but when it comes to explaining his troubles, he continues to offer the same diagnosis: He comes out every day and gets himself ready to play. If he takes an oh-fer, well, thats baseball.
The Angels still are waiting on their 240-million investment to break out because they believe the rest of the feeble offense will follow. So far it hasnt, but theres a lot of long, hot summer in front of them.
Was Tuesday night a sign of better things to come? Pujols hit a towering home run to left field in the third inning of a 5-0 win over the Oakland As, his fourth of the season and the 449th of his career, tying Vladimir Guerrero and Jeff Bagwell for 35th on the career list. He also had a sacrifice fly.
Hes a monster, said pitcher C.J. Wilson, who allowed just one hit in eight innings for his fifth win, lowering his ERA to 2.90. He crushed that ball.
Pujols offers little explanation for his sluggish start, either because hes as confused as everyone else or he doesnt want to share. All he says is that he prepares the same way every day and hopes for the best.
You put good swings on it, and whenever it clicks it clicks, he said before the game. Sometimes it takes a while, sometimes it doesnt. As long as you dont get down on yourself and press and go out there and get ready every day, thats the best thing.
Theres no sense in trying to figure out where this will take Pujols. On one hand, he has three homers in the past seven days and has reached base safely in 11 consecutive games. On the other, he continues to pull the ball on the ground and offers only sporadic glimpses of his greatness. And hes still hitting just .213.
Tuesday night, he appeared to square up well on the ball, hitting an impressive fly ball to the warning track in center; in the daytime, thats a home run.
Its coming in drips and drabs, manager Mike Scioscia said. Its not like he woke up and all of a sudden he has it. Hes been working toward this; its been a process. Theres no doubt hes seeing the ball very well and getting in some good hitting counts and taking some pitches.
Even Pujols realizes that one game doesnt mark his emergence as an Angel. Hes 4 for 20 on the road trip, and while he clearly feasts on As pitching (13 for 33 in seven games, a .394 average), hes hitting a mere .141 against all other opponents.
Is he more comfortable at the plate? Does he feel like hes starting to hit the ball squarely? Those arent things he thinks about, he said.
Im just glad to contribute today, he said after the game. I felt I swung the bat pretty well, even though I only got one hit. Even on the strikeout, (As reliever Travis Blackley) made a good pitch, but I was battling and putting a good swing on the ball.
That marks progress. But no one should be fooled by one home run. Pujols, like the Angels, needs to do it again and again. Its consistency everyone is looking for, and until that happens, neither he nor the team is going anywhere.
In the meantime, all he can do is keep swinging. And keep hoping for good things.
But dont look for much analysis. Pujols wont do that.
Thats the last thing you want to do, try to overthink and over-swing, he said. Hitting is hard, but you have to keep it simple. As much as you know that its hard, you really have to keep it simple and go out there and put a good swing.
Sometimes youre going to feel good, and most of the time you dont. The times you dont feel good is when you have to survive until you get that streak going.
Until then, hes less than advertised.