Pujols' first home run powers Halos to victory

Pujols' first home run powers Halos to victory

Pujols' first home run powers Halos to victory
ANAHEIM -- Sometimes, it seemed as if the entire world was waiting for Albert Pujols to hit his first home run in an Angels uniform.

But when he returned to the dugout after finally connecting on Sunday -- providing the eventual winning margin in a 4-3 victory over the Blue Jays -- Pujols was all alone.

At the urging of Torii Hunter, all of his Angels teammates had rushed into the tunnel as the iconic first baseman rounded the bases amid a standing ovation at Angel Stadium, making sure he saw an empty bench before they all jumped out to congratulate him seconds later.

"That means you did something good," Pujols said after the game. "So it's awesome."

"It was just spur of the moment," Hunter said. "They were like, 'Solitude, solitude.' I was like, 'No, let's go in the tunnel, get off the bench, so he can't see anybody!' When I have a day off, man, I do stupid stuff."

They can all laugh now.

It's finally over.

After Pujols set a single-season career-high homerless drought of 110 at-bats, and even heard boos from the home crowd, he finally broke the ice with a fifth-inning, two-out, two-run homer off Blue Jays rookie Drew Hutchison, smashing a 2-2 slider that sailed over the heart of the plate into the left-field bullpen. The ball traveled an estimated 390 feet.

"I put a good swing and I hit it pretty good," said Pujols. "Obviously, day game, the ball travels a little bit more."

With it, Pujols gave the Angels a three-run lead. With it, he provided the necessary cushion to withstand Blue Jays runs in the sixth and seventh.

With it, he might've taken a huge burden off his shoulders -- and his team's.

"It's a relief for him, and I'm pretty sure it's a relief for us," Hunter said. "We ain't gotta hear about Albert having a goose egg no more. I'm happy that he got this lifted off of him. Now he can go out there and just swing and have fun."

Pujols' homer helped the struggling Angels put a positive end to their first winning homestand, one that saw them take five of seven after sweeping the Twins and splitting a four-game set against the Blue Jays.

Heading into a six-game road trip against the Twins and Rangers, the Angels still own a 12-17 record and stand 6 1/2 games back in the American League West, but they've received fantastic starting pitching (15 quality starts in the last 16 games) and the offense has started to come to life (back-to-back double-digit-hit games for the first time since April 19-21).

Most important, their $240 million slugger can finally just relax.

That's the hope, at least.

"We need his production," said manager Mike Scioscia, who gave Pujols a mental day off on Saturday. "Today, big hit, and hopefully, it'll break through and let him swing the bat to his capabilities."

"I don't think anything has been lifted off my shoulders, man," said Pujols, whose batting average is now .196. "I don't think about what you guys write or what you think. I know what I'm capable of doing. I come over here every day, try to get myself ready for the game and give 110 percent to this team and to this organization. And if I can do that, there's nothing to be sorry about."

Thanks to Pujols' homer, Jerome Williams got his second straight win after giving up three runs (two earned) on eight hits and one walk in 6 2/3 innings, moving his ERA to 3.38 on the year and 2.16 over his last four starts.

Williams left with runners on first and second, two outs and the Angels clinging to a one-run lead in the seventh. Then, rookie David Carpenter struck out Jose Bautista looking on a 2-2 sinker, and the rest of the bullpen -- which began the day with the fewest saves and the second-worst ERA in baseball -- held on in the next two innings, though Scott Downs (left knee) and LaTroy Hawkins (right pinkie) were nursing injuries postgame.

The Angels got on the board thanks to RBI singles by Mark Trumbo and Alberto Callaspo in the fourth. Pujols followed up with his homer the following inning, driving in Mike Trout and getting his only hit on an afternoon that saw him fly out twice and strike out.

That home run gave Pujols only seven RBIs on the year, and marked only his second extra-base hit since April 19.

But it was a positive step nonetheless.

"This game is about making adjustments and being patient," Pujols said. "Sometimes you want to do too much, and it's part of it. If you don't, my dad always told me, you're not human. And I'm human."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.