ANAHEIM -- The All-Star Game and Albert Pujols were as much a summer tradition as beach balls and sunburns. Through his first 10 years, he went to nine of them, starting seven times for the National League while competing in the Home Run Derby on three separate occasions.
Pujols' sixth-inning two-run homer in Tuesday's 4-1 win over the D-backs gave him sole possession of the American League lead with 19. Eleven of them have come over his last 18 games, a stretch that has seen Pujols bat .368 with three strikeouts in 75 plate appearances. His slash line is up to .273/.326/.550. His OPS, .876, now ranks third among AL first basemen.
It's been five years since Pujols' last invite to the Midsummer Classic, though. He's been denied each of his first three years with the Angels, while starting 2012 on a miserable slump, battling injuries throughout 2013 and falling off the radar by 2014.
Now, he's making his push.
"If I get the call, great," Pujols said of the All-Star Game. "If I don't, then I guess I don't. There are so many people in the past that deserve to be there. You can only have so many guys on the roster. It's not like you get a hundred players on the roster, but I don't think about that, to tell you the truth."
It won't be easy.
The Tigers' Miguel Cabrera (1.043) and the Yankees' Mark Teixeira (.942) lead in OPS among first basemen, but they aren't even in line to start. That distinction belongs to Eric Hosmer, one of eight Royals players currently being voted in to make up the AL lineup. Pujols ranked fifth in fan votes at his position when the latest results were revealed, nearly five million shy of Hosmer.
Pujols' only real hope is to get voted in by his peers, who select a backup at each position, or the managers, who select eight additional players.
"I think first base is one of the toughest positions to grab a spot in the All-Star Game," Pujols' longtime teammate, David Freese, said. "It's a position where guys are expected to bang. You can have 15, 20 at the break with a lot of damage and not make it. … But the guy is just unbelievable. I get front-row seats on deck a good portion of the time, just watching him hit. He looks healthy, man. His legs are powerful. He's getting down on his stance and he's ready to go every pitch."
Pujols was batting .228 with eight homers and 17 RBIs through the Angels' first 45 games, but he remained confident, because he was batting an unseemly .210 on balls in play and he was hardly striking out. He's now on pace for 47 home runs, a number he hasn't reached since 2009.
The year after that, he made his last All-Star Game.
"Would I like to be there? Of course," Pujols said. "Everybody wants to be at the All-Star Game, but I can't control that. All I can control is doing the best I can, hopefully helping this ballclub be in first place before the All-Star break."