May 5, 2012
Honeymoon over for Pujols
By Ken Fidlin, QMI Agency
ANAHEIM - The honeymoon has officially ended for Albert Pujols and Los Angeles Angels fans. For 11 glorious seasons, Pujols never heard a peep of protest in St. Louis as he amassed statistics that identified him as the best hitter in baseball.
Just over a month into his 10-year, $240-million contract in L.A., Pujols is already being booed. It happened for the first time on Friday night in the ninth inning of Toronto’s 4-0 win. After Maicer Izturis doubled to lead off the ninth, Pujols grounded out to third baseman Brett Lawrie and the boos rained down.
The man who came to Anaheim after averaging more than 40 home runs a year in St. Louis, still has not hit one after 108 at-bats, the longest home run drought of his career. Pujols, who owns the highest career batting average (.334) and slugging percentage (.611) of any active player, is now batting .194 with an anemic .269 slugging percentage.
“My message to the fans is, they have a reason to boo,” said Pujols after the game. “I’m not performing the way that I can, but just the same way I’m patient, they need to be patient and know that I’m gonna be here for 10 years. I don’t read the future, but I guarantee to you there’s gonna be more cheers than boos in those 10 years.
“This is just six weeks into the season. They have the right. They pay a lot of money to come and watch me play, and I’m not performing the way I know how to perform. But I also understand I can’t force it. I’m trying my best.”
Pujols isn’t the only slugger at Angels Stadium this weekend who must persevere in the face of criticism. Blue Jays kingpin Jose Bautista is going through a frustrating dry spell himself, though despite a low contact rate so far this season, he has managed to contribute five home runs to the Blue Jay cause. Still, he is hitting just .177 as the No. 3 hitter, batting ahead of Adam Lind, who is in even more dire straits, batting .195 without even a hint of the power that has now become a faded memory.
Bautista hit his fifth homer of the year Friday and, while frustrated, is battling through it.
“I’m trying to have good at-bats,” said Bautista. “Even (Friday) I only had one hit but I felt like I had four good at-bats. I worked a walk and went to 3-2 on the two at-bats where I didn’t do anything. It’s just that I’m not seeing many pitches over the heart of the plate. I’m seeing strikes but they’re just really good pitcher’s pitches on the corners. It’s hard to take advantage when that’s what’s happening.
“They’re not making many mistakes. Today (Ervin Santana) made one and I was able to attack it and get a good hit.”
Bautista did acknowledge that his lack of consistent production does get under his skin.
“When you’re not doing your job the right way, or how you’re capable of doing it, it’s going to affect you if you really care abouwt what you’re doing,” he said. “That’s what’s happening to me. A lot of bad breaks have been going not my way and I just hope the tide turns soon.”
So, too, does Pujols. Not only is he struggling but he’s carrying the weight of an entire team’s struggles. They went into Saturday’s game 7.5 games behind the Texas Rangers in a division where they expect to be neck-and-neck.
“I need to have faith and stay strong, and know that this bad time will pass,” Pujols said. “And if it won’t pass, if it’s meant to be like this the whole year, I deal with it. But you know what? I’m a great hitter. I know I can hit. And before you know it, I’ll start making some adjustments and swing the bat the way I know how to swing the bat.
“But I can’t come over here and get myself down, because that’s not who I am. I’m a leader in this clubhouse, just like I was in St. Louis. And when you struggle around this time, this is when the ballclub needs their leader to step up.”
There is no doubt in Bautista’s mind the Pujols will pull out of this tailspin and deliver the value the Angels and their fans expect.
“He’s going to be fine,” said Bautista. “He’s one of the best hitters of this generation and I’m not too worried about him. He’s going to pick it up at some point and at the end of the year, his numbers are going to be just fine.”