Before Saturday night at Angel Stadium, Albert Pujols had hit 22 career homers in 90 games against the Royals, the professional baseball team from his adopted hometown.
Pujols, 37 years old and aging, is not the superstar he once was. His power has diminished. His legs are basically shot. A few weeks ago, he became the ninth player in history to reach 600 homers. Yet as he started another game at designated hitter for the Los Angeles Angels, his OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging) sat at .656, nearly 300 points below his career average.
Pujols, a graduate of Fort Osage High School, does not strike fear in opposing pitchers like he once did. But for a swing here, or a swing there, he can resemble his old self. So it was in the fifth inning on Saturday night against Royals rookie starter Jakob Junis.
On an 0-1 count, Junis threw a sinker that moved toward the inner third of the plate. Pujols released his hands and roped the baseball over the wall in left-center.
“I thought it was a decent pitch,” Junis would say. “I thought he had swung through two of those in the previous at-bat. … He’s one of the best hitters of all time. So give him credit.”
In a 9-0 loss to the Angels, the two-run shot served as the finishing punch in an early flurry. The Royals trailed 5-0 after five innings as the shadows danced around Angel Stadium, causing headaches for hitters. A six-game winning streak died as Junis was knocked for five earned runs and eight hits in 5 1/3 innings.