Lyle Spencer

Pujols' tear is a reminder of his greatness

Pujols' tear is a reminder of his greatness

ANAHEIM -- Hardly a day passes now that Albert Pujols doesn't pass a legend on some historical list. Before Mike Trout emerged as the consensus best player in the baseball, it is worth recalling that Pujols preceded the Angels' center fielder with that universal distinction.

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Long live The Machine.

Pujols, in the midst of a power surge comparable to any in his magnificent career, appears intent on letting the world know he still is empowered with all the right stuff.

Going deep twice against the American League West-leading Astros in the Angels' 4-3 victory Monday night at Angel Stadium, Pujols lifted his AL-high homer number to 23. The Machine is sizzling.

In his past 24 games, Pujols has 15 home runs. He recently moved past Hall of Famers Jimmie Foxx and Mickey Mantle on the all-time homer list and seems destined to displace Mike Schmidt as No. 15 in a matter of days. The great Phillies third baseman retired with 548 homers, five more than Pujols now owns.

Pujols on his two homers, win

"We'll talk about it when I retire," Pujols said when asked how it feels to be on this level, connected with the best to play the game. "It's hard for me to get caught up in that. I'll have plenty of time to think about that. I know what I can do when I'm healthy and feeling good."

There is the rub, so to speak. Pujols seemingly has been in recovery or dealing with an injury of some sort since the first day he pulled on an Angels uniform in 2012, a few months after celebrating a World Series championship with the Cardinals.

"It's the best I've felt since the 3 1/2 years I've been here," he said. "A lot of the credit I give to the trainers and the good routine I do to keep myself on the field."

Clearly, the $240 million man is determined to play out the 10 years on his contract and continue to track down the legends. His renewed sense of well-being shows in the field, where his defense remains first rate at first base, on the basepaths and most definitely in the batter's box.

"He's a presence," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Talk to the players who saw him in St. Louis all those years, and this is Albert. We've seen glimpses of it. Right now, we're seeing what he can do."

There is no more dangerous hitter in the game at the moment -- including his buddy, Trout, and the great Miguel Cabrera in Detroit.

Pujols is slugging .581, second in the AL to Cabrera's .593 and just ahead of Trout's .574. Pujols' OPS has climbed to .917 -- higher than it's been since 2010. Pujols exceeded 1.000 in OPS in eight of his 11 seasons with the Cardinals.

His .790 OPS last season in 159 games was the second lowest of his career; he came in at .767 in just 99 games in 2013. Those were pain-riddled campaigns, but he played through it.

Entire eras in baseball have been virtually defined by dominant 3-4 hitters: Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig; Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle; Willie Mays and Willie McCovey; Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews.

Recently bonded in the 3-4 spots, Trout and Pujols have given Angels fans something to feel good about in a disappointing season. There is no match for this lethal power tandem.

When Pujols deposited his first homer on Monday night off starter Brett Oberholtzer over the center-field wall in the fifth inning, it came with Trout aboard with a walk and gave the Angels a 2-1 lead.

Two innings later, Pujols launched another missile to left-center, this one coming off right-handed reliever Josh Fields.

The eight total bases have Pujols third in the league with 150. Trout, with 151, trails Toronto's Josh Donaldson, the leader with 154. Cabrera, Pujols' successor as the game's premier hitter, has 146.

Pujols and Trout have scored or driven home 87 of the team's past 108 runs. They have combined for 41 of the team's 74 homers, for 97 of its 283 runs scored and 88 of its 269 RBIs.

Pujols tends to deflect questions about personal achievements in the team's direction.

"We're in June, late June, almost July," he said. "Every series is big. It's the middle of the season."

Asked if he's locked in, he said, "I'm locked in every day. I go by how hard I'm hitting the ball. Obviously, it's better the last six weeks here. I wish I could hit two home runs every day but it's impossible.

"My goal is to play every day and do everything I can to help our organization win. That's what I've been doing for 15, 16 years."

Lyle Spencer is a national reporter and columnist for Follow him on Twitter @LyleMSpencer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.