Pujols so far has proved powerless
ANAHEIM – This is not, most assuredly, the season to stage a home run hitting contest with Manny Ramirez.
And yet, here we stand, 15 games into this promising, trumpeted new beginning, and Ramirez and Albert Pujols remain deadlocked.
Of course, Albert has 61 at-bats while Manny is serving a 50-game suspension.
Pujols eventually will hit a homer this season and probably 30-40 more after that one. But so far? El Hombre? Ay Dios mio!
The Angels did beat Baltimore, 6-3, on Saturday for their first winning streak of the season. After starting 4-9, one disaster appears to have been dodged.
But the longer Pujols is chasing Peter Bourjos in homers, the larger this topic will become.
Judging from the anxious way the crowd reacted when Pujols narrowly missed the left-field foul pole in the seventh inning, the topic already has swelled to the size of Angel Stadium.
It is, let's just say, the $240 million elephant in the room.
"You know, the marine layer is a mother," teammate Torii Hunter said, laughing. "We told him in spring training it's pretty tough. I think he'll be fine."
Oh, yeah, spring training. Back in March, no one in baseball hit more than Pujols' seven exhibition home runs. But now ...
Nine Texas Rangers have homered before Pujols. Curtis Gunderson hit three home runs in one game last week. Mark Teixeira hit homers in consecutive innings Saturday.
Hey, no wonder Pujols had to take a pay cut this season. No kidding. He made $14.5 million in St. Louis last year. His 2012 salary is only $12 million. Then again, nine years from now, the Angels will be paying him $30 million for one season.
Also back in Arizona, Pujols said he has a permanent chip on his shoulder, but he called the $240 million contract "an extra chip." So far, in terms of power, he has worn that extra chip like an anchor.
We considered asking him about all this, but Pujols already has said he's tired of hearing those questions. And that confession came several days ago.
So instead, we turned to Hunter who, thankfully, never tires of questions.
"One thing about home runs, they come in bunches," Hunter said. "When you hit 'em, you hit 'em, hit 'em, hit 'em. When he starts hittin' 'em, he's going to hit 10, 15 right away. It's going to be a lot of fun to watch."
Pujols' teammates certainly haven't helped blanket his missing power to date. Instead, they have left him exposed with a weakling performance of their own.
When Matt Kemp hit his ninth home run of the season Saturday, the Dodgers outfielder pulled to one of the Angels — the entire roster of Angels, we mean. The first five hitters in their lineup for this game had combined for a single homer. One.
But it's Pujols' zero that is even more difficult to ignore.
Entering Saturday, 213 players had hit home runs this season, including headliners such as Jordan Schafer, Michael McKenry and Norichika Aoki. Know who else homered before Pujols did?
The Angels' old jersey No. 5, Jeff Mathis. You know, the career .196 hitter?
Matt Carpenter, one of the players replacing Pujols at first base in St. Louis, also has homered. So have each of the Angels' first basemen who preceded Pujols — Mark Trumbo, Kendrys Morales and Casey Kotchman.
"It's coming," Hunter promised, speaking about the power of the Angels, as well as Pujols. "It's coming. It's a feel, just a feel. You can't go get it. It has to come to you."
The list of those who already have homered includes two Monteros and two Escobars, David Murphy and Donnie Murphy, a LaHair and a LaRoche, Alexei Ramirez and Aramis Ramirez, a (Aaron) Hill and a (Brett) Pill and a Will (Venable), a Markakis and a Moustakas, a Jay and a Bay, an Elvis (Andrus) and a (Alex) Presley and four guys named Jones.
It now has been more than two weeks without a Pujols bomb. Speaking of which, Rickie Weeks and Jemile Weeks also have homered before Albert has.
This will change, folks. We promise.
Even better, Hunter guarantees it. Also still without a home run, he predicted that today, in the warm, welcoming afternoon sunshine, the fans would see a first for this season.
"Tomorrow, day game," Hunter said, "one of us is gonna hit a home run."
It cannot happen fast enough for Pujols and the Angels, who are paying their slugger an absurd amount to generate runs but also produce trots.
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