Stars align as Pujols, Trout light up sky for Weaver

Stars align as Pujols, Trout light up sky for Weaver

Stars align as Pujols, Trout light up sky for Weaver
ARLINGTON -- There's hot, and then there's Texas hot. Or, more specifically, Texas-in-the-summer hot, which the Angels experienced in a Tuesday game at Rangers Ballpark that began with temperatures of 103 degrees.

"I'm breathing and I feel like I'm burning my mouth through my nose because it's so hot," said Albert Pujols, and he's not really one to complain.

"This isn't warmer weather, this is hotter weather," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "This is not, like, seasonably warm. It was smoking out there."

And so the Angels adjusted.

Pujols cut down the number of swings he took in batting practice, which helped him save the energy required to notch his first multihomer game in an Angels uniform.

Jered Weaver, at the advice of former Angels pitcher John Lackey, went off the regimen and threw his pregame bullpen session indoors, which helped him be fresh enough to hold the Rangers scoreless until the seventh inning.

And Mike Trout, who wound up adding to his rookie accomplishments in a stellar July -- well, he's 20 years old and kind of a freak, so weather tends to have little effect on him.

Those three stars -- who will have to step up in these head-to-head matchups if the Angels are to make that long uphill climb in the American League West standings -- thrived amid the scorching heat, leading the Angels to a 6-2 win that gave them the first two of a big four-game series against the Rangers.

Once trailing by nine, the Angels are now three games back of Texas, representing their smallest deficit since June 14.

"Any time we can gain some games on these guys, especially in their home park, it's clutch," Weaver said after giving up two runs in 6 1/3 innings. "We're getting down to the nitty-gritty where we need to get some wins going. It's nice to take the first two from these guys, but obviously you can't take them lightly. We still have two against them and we need to come out and play the same kind of baseball we've been playing."

After long-tossing outside, Weaver moved to the cage for his bullpen session, then came out feeling more refreshed than he usually does around these parts.

Perhaps, after going 2-7 with a 5.21 ERA in his first 14 career starts in Texas, Weaver felt he needed to change things up.

"That bullpen gets really hot down there, so you're pretty much gassed before the game even starts," Weaver said. "It was a little bit cooler down here in the cage. A couple of guys in Boston had mentioned that that's what they do, and I just wanted to try it out. It definitely helped."

Apparently. Weaver retired the first 14 batters in order, eventually scattering five hits and a walk in a 97-pitch outing and prompting Scioscia to note it was the "most crisp" he's ever seen his ace in Rangers Ballpark.

"I'll definitely be doing it next time," Weaver said, after moving to 14-1 with a 2.29 ERA on the year. The ace right-hander has now won a career-high eight straight starts and the Angels are 11-0 in his last 11 starts, including 16-3 overall.

Don't think he's forgotten about what happened the last time here, when he gave up eight runs on 10 hits in 3 1/3 innings on May 13, then left in a fit of rage.

"You're not going to forget about games like that," Weaver said. "You feed off games like that to make yourself better. I wanted to redeem myself here, and I was able to do that for the most part."

And Pujols and Trout gave him plenty of cushion to work with.

Pujols hit solo shots to left in the fourth and sixth against Rangers starter Derek Holland, giving him 20 homers on the year and putting his batting average at .284, the highest it's been since April 19.

"He's definitely turned it around, no doubt about it," Holland said. "He is what he is. He had a slow start, but he's picked it up. He's a great hitter. He and Trout are doing a great job picking that team up."

Hitting in the same place where he blasted three homers in Game 3 of the 2011 World Series, Pujols notched his 43rd career regular-season multihomer game and moved into a tie with Dave Winfield for 31st on the all-time home runs list, with 465.

"I got a couple of good swings," Pujols said. "Sometimes that happens; you run the barrel through the ball and all of a sudden you hit a couple out. I go out there and try to put a good swing every time."

Two batters before Pujols went deep in the top of the sixth, Trout hit a two-run shot, giving him 18 on the year and 10 this month -- the most ever by an AL rookie in July. In the seventh, he came around to score on a two-run double from Torii Hunter off reliever Tanner Scheppers, giving him 32 runs scored in July -- tying Hal Trosky of the 1934 Indians for the most runs ever in the Majors by a rookie this month.

Despite spending the first month in the Minors, Trout leads the Majors in runs (80) and stolen bases (31), while pacing the AL in batting average (.351). The only other player in Major League history to hit at least .350 with 15 homers and 30 stolen bases before Aug. 1 is Rickey Henderson in 1985.

"I just went out there and played my game, and the numbers are where they are," Trout said. "Just being more comfortable out there has helped me a lot."

The Angels are now 9-9 since the All-Star break, but 7-4 against the Rangers this season -- with eight to go in the season and two to go in this series.

"This is a big two games for us to start a series," Trout said. "We have to finish it out strong."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for Read 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.