Albert Pujols chose a good time to finally reach the milestone that had eluded him for more than a month.
Pujols shot the 660th homer of his career, equalizing Willie Mays for fifth place on the all-time list, with a two-run shot to put the Angels on top in the eighth inning of their 5-3 win over the Colorado Rockies. Sunday in Denver.
Pujols had hit his previous homer on August 4 and had endured a 93 innings drought without a homer. It was his longest homeless play since 2014.
Pujols is now alone behind Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714) and Alex Rodriguez (696).
“That’s quite special, because Willie Mays is one of the greatest of all time, and Albert will be talked about in the same terms,” said manager Joe Maddon.
It’s likely that Pujols has climbed his last step on the all-time list. Pujols, 40, hasn’t hit more than 30 homers since 2016 and he has one more year on his contract.
Although he had struggled to get the homer on Mays, Pujols had nevertheless hit .253 during the drought.
He had walked in two of his three at bats before moving to the plate in the eighth against Carlos Estevez, a 27-year old Dominican righthanded.
Esteves threw Pujols a 96 mph fastball at the top of the zone, and Pujols shot it 402 feet into the left field bleachers, turning a one run deficit into a one run Angels lead.
The explosion also came just in time to give Andrew Heaney a chance for victory after giving up three runs in seven innings.
Heaney struckout eight batters and walked no batter.
In the second, he gave up a homer to Matt Kemp, and in the third, he gave up two more runs on back-to-back doubles in the sprawling outfield by Kevin Pillar and Charlie Blackmon.
Heaney then worked four more innings without giving up a run, despite holding back leadoff hits in the fourth and sixth. First baseman Jared Walsh started a nice double play to help Heaney escape the fourth and in the sixth, he recorded two of his strikeouts to defuse a first-and-third, no-out rally.
“I thought he was throwing really well,” said Maddon. “His breaking ball to judges was excellent, maybe as good as I’ve seen him. And then he went up when he wanted to.”
Heaney has a 2.36 ERA in his last four starts.
Reliever Matt Andriese worked the last two innings to secure the win, giving the Angels the rubber play of the series.
They still have vague playoff hopes on their way to a Monday day off and their last 12 games. They are four games behind the Houston Astros for second place in the American League West, pending the outcome of Sunday night’s Astros game against the Dodgers.
Sure, the Angels had hoped for better than 3-3 on a six-game trip across Texas and Colorado, but they struggled offensively for most of the trip and also had bullpen problems when they did get a lead on Friday night.
Their line-up didn’t do much until the late innings on Sunday. They had only one run, on a basesloaded passed ball, in the first six innings. Jared Walsh had an RBI-single with two outs in the seventh to narrow the Rockies’ lead to 3-2.
Walsh, who had two hits, has 11 hits in his last 25 at-bats.
Shohei Ohtani sat on the bench this weekend for the second game in a row, and the second time in the past four games when the Angels faced a righthanded pitcher.
Manager Joe Maddon said he wanted to play both Albert Pujols and Jered Walsh, who swing the bat better, and that there is nothing physically wrong with Ohtani.
Ohtani has been in a slump all season, averaging .189 and .635 OPS on Sundays. Maddon said Ohtani’s work and attitude have remained good despite the results.
“I don’t see any frustration,” said Maddon. “I’m a lot into his job. We talk a lot. Of course he’s frustrated internally. For whatever reason, there are some really good players this year going through this same kind of offensive trauma, and they will all get through it. You’re good and you’re young and you’re not in pain, you’ll get through it, and that’s what I think Shohei will do. ”