Angels All-Stars relishing club's resurgence
Winning road trip before break catapults club into AL West lead
CINCINNATI -- Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Hector Santiago soaked in their All-Star experiences as members of a first-place team, a reality few could've ever imagined as recently as two weeks ago. The Angels won seven of nine in the road trip that marked the end of the celebratory first half, turning a five-game deficit behind the Astros into a half-game cushion in the American League West over a span of 10 days.
The Angels left for the road shortly after the sudden resignation of general manager Jerry Dipoto, then began the trip with their first matchup against Josh Hamilton, tuning out two seismic distractions just before playing their best baseball of the season.
"There's only so many things we can control, and we couldn't control any of that," Trout said moments before the All-Star Game presented by T-Mobile, which ended in a 6-3 win for the American League and a second straight Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award for Trout. "We just had to play our game."
The Angels finished the month of June ranked 22nd in the Majors in OPS and 23rd in runs per game, a major reason they sported a .500 record on 18 separate occasions. Over that season-changing nine-game stretch from July 3-12, while playing in Arlington, Colorado and Seattle, they plated 65 runs -- more than they scored over their previous 19 games.
"It was like, 'When are we going to turn this thing around?'" Pujols said. "I know our offense wasn't clicking all year long, but I kept [saying], 'It'll happen. You can't force stuff. It'll happen, because we know that we have the ballclub to do that; we know that we have the talent."
Asked what it took for the Angels to surge on their recent road trip, Santiago pointed in the direction of Pujols' locker at Great American Ball Park. It was Pujols who basically carried the offense before it took off, batting .314 with 16 homers and nine strikeouts from May 26 to June 30.
But Santiago believes Dipoto's resignation might have also had a slight effect, in some weird way.
"I don't want to say him getting fired was something like, 'All right, now we go, boys,'" Santiago said. "No, but it was something where we were saying, 'Let them worry about that; we'll worry about this. Here we go; let's play some 'ball.'"
Moments after Trout became the first player to win two straight All-Star Game MVPs and roughly 24 hours after Todd Frazier won the Gillette Home Run Derby presented by Head & Shoulders in his home ballpark, the two hopped on a private jet to their home state of New Jersey.
Trout and Frazier will spend a couple of days there before the start of the second half.
"Me and Todd, we go back a while," Trout said. "We're always messing with each other. He's a great guy. Last night was something special. I get chills just thinking about it, just the way he put on a show for his hometown, all the pressure and stuff. It was fun."
Something to savor
Santiago, an avid autograph collector, left the All-Star Game with five-dozen signed baseballs, two team bats signed by all of the All-Stars, his own jersey signed by all of the All-Stars and some of the few autographed jerseys he's still missing, including Bobby Bonilla.
The 27-year-old left-hander didn't pitch in the game, but Santiago did make a memory.
"I threw one pitch off the mound," Santiago said, "just to say I did."
Pujols playfully joined the loud boos pointed at Yadier Molina and all of the Cardinals representatives during All-Star Game introductions, just before getting showered by boos himself over his ties to the Reds' heated rivals. Pujols and Molina remain best friends, even though they haven't played together in three and a half years.
"I got to see him for so many years healthy, and I never doubted that he would get back," Molina said. "The last couple years have been hard for him while he's been hurt and trying to play through it. But right now, he's just healthy and having fun."