Mariners introduced to Pujols in a big way

Mariners introduced to Pujols in a big way

Mariners introduced to Pujols in a big way
SEATTLE -- Somebody forgot to tell the Mariners that Albert Pujols wasn't having much impact in his new American League West surroundings.

Seven weeks into the season, Pujols faced Seattle for the first time with the Angels and promptly went 3-for-4 with a home run, two RBIs and two runs scored in Thursday's 3-0 victory over the Mariners at Safeco Field.

The outburst raised Pujols' average to .225 with five home runs and 22 RBIs, far from what the Angels expected when they signed him to a 10-year, $240 million deal. But don't tell the Mariners the big man is struggling.

"I faced him in the National League, so maybe he felt comfortable seeing somebody he was familiar with," said Mariners starter Jason Vargas, who pitched for the Mets before getting traded to Seattle prior to the 2009 season. "But he hit some good pitches, he hit a bad pitch. Everybody knows what he's capable of and no matter what his batting average is or what he's doing, he's always going to give that presence in the middle of the lineup."

In Pujols' first at-bat, he ripped a Vargas changeup off the upper-deck facade in left field for a quick two-run lead. He later added two sharp singles and stole a base, having a hand in all three of the Angels' runs.

Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan has seen this act before, having played with Pujols for four seasons in St. Louis.

"Not that he ever has or ever will, but he could be 0-for-80 and it doesn't matter," Ryan said. "He can win a game with one swing."

Pujols provided all the offense the Angels needed on a night Dan Haren blanked Seattle on four hits for his sixth career shutout and struck out 14, a career high.

The Mariners had won five of their last six, but Thursday's loss dropped them into last place in the American League West at 21-26, a half-game behind the Angels (21-25).

Manager Eric Wedge was far more concerned with his team's approach against Haren than what Pujols did at the plate.

Haren came in riding a four-game losing streak, equaling the longest of his career, and sporting a 1-5 record with a 4.37 ERA. But after Dustin Ackley's leadoff single in the first, he zipped through the next 15 batters before Michael Saunders managed an infield single in the sixth.

By game's end, Haren had whiffed every Mariner hitter except Ackley, including four strikeouts of Alex Liddi a day after the youngster had hit a grand slam to help beat the Rangers.

"He pitched a good ballgame, but we didn't make any adjustments," Wedge said. "He was doing the same thing in the ninth inning he was doing in the first. That's the red flag. You can't just keep going up there doing the same thing and expect different results. Somebody has to make an adjustment. You have to recognize what he's doing to you and change things. Otherwise, the results are what they were tonight."

Ryan, who had one of the four hits with a single in the eighth, said Haren kept working the outside corner of the plate without response from Seattle.

"You look at what the other right-handed batters are doing and how he's getting us out, because we're just zooming through this game, and it was all stuff off the plate away," Ryan said. "Lunging, checked-swing stuff, and at some point you want to take that pitch away from him."

Vargas gave up seven hits and three runs in seven innings of work, but saw his record fall to 5-4 with his first home loss of the year. Other than the first-inning changeup to Pujols, he said he felt sharp.

"But Haren pitched a good game," said Vargas. "You give up those runs early and he gets going like that, one run would have been enough for him, I guess."

For Vargas, even the early 2-0 deficit at Safeco was a rare thing. The left-hander had allowed only one earned run in each of his six previous home starts, posting a 4-0 record and 1.29 ERA at Safeco since Sept. 8, 2011.

That string ended in a hurry when Mike Trout led off with a single and Pujols followed one out later with his 450th career home run.

The Angels pushed across a third run off Vargas in the sixth when Pujols singled, stole second and scored on Kendrys Morales' single to left. Vargas was kicking himself afterward for letting Pujols steal that key bag.

"I just definitely got into a pattern where I wasn't paying attention to him and he took the base without us even being able to defend it," said Vargas. "Mistakes like that can't happen. I know better than that. That's the type of player he is. He's a smart baserunner and he's always looking to catch somebody sleeping and he did."

"Albert definitely set the tone tonight with everything he was doing," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. "That stolen base, obviously drove the ball, good at-bats all night. We didn't get much else than what Albert created, so it was a good night for him to get comfortable."

And a difficult reminder for the Mariners of what they could see again in 18 more meetings with the Angels this season.

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.