ANAHEIM -- A slow roller put runners on second and third, with the score tied and two outs in the bottom of the ninth at Angel Stadium on Thursday night, and everybody knew what was coming: The Rangers were going to walk Mike Trout, and they were going to dare
ANAHEIM -- A slow roller put runners on second and third, with the score tied and two outs in the bottom of the ninth at Angel Stadium on Thursday night, and everybody knew what was coming: The Rangers were going to walk Mike Trout, and they were going to dare Albert Pujols to beat them.
Mike Scioscia knew it. Hector Santiago knew it. Huston Street knew it.
"I know it's Mike Trout," Street said, "but it's also Albert Pujols."
And when Pujols unleashed a line drive deep into the left-center-field gap to give his Angels their first victory of this young season, a 4-3 win in Game No. 3, nobody was surprised, either.
Santiago recalled his thoughts as soon as Trout stepped to the plate to look at four balls.
"I was like, 'I can't wait until Albert gets this hit and looks right into the dugout," Santiago said. "You're kind of showing him up right there, saying, 'Here, we're not going to pitch to Trout, we're going to pitch to you.' He takes that against him, as if they're throwing at him. And he answers back every time."
Pujols' walk-off hit was the 19th of his career, tied with David Ortiz for the most in the Majors since 2000, and his fifth with the Angels. It was his second after an opposing manager intentionally walked Trout to get to him, the other one coming against the Padres on May 25, 2015, with Bud Black -- now a special assistant with the Angels -- making the fateful decision.
This time it was Jeff Banister, who later said: "We were not going to let Trout beat us."
Pujols gets it.
"I would do the same thing if I was the manager in that situation," he said, calling Trout "the best player in the game."
The Angels were outscored by the Cubs, 15-1, in the two-game series that opened their season, managing only seven hits, four runners in scoring position and nine total bases. The opener of this four-game set might have been this lineup's awakening, with all four of their runs coming with two outs and 11 hits dispersed throughout the batting order.
Pujols entered his key at-bat with only one hit in his first 11 at-bats, an eighth-inning chopper on a hit-and-run with Trout on first base.
Then he turned on a 1-0, 93-mph fastball from the Rangers' closer, Shawn Tolleson, watched it sail over the head of left fielder Ian Desmond and met Trout just before second base, jumping as high as he could to bump chests with the 24-year-old center fielder.
"I just stay focused all the time, man," Pujols said. "I've got close to 2,000 RBIs for a reason. Or whatever. I stay focused in that situation. I know how to handle myself. I'm not automatic. There's times that you're going to get yourself out, and there's times you're going to come through. That's how it goes, man."
Pujols actually has 1,699, one away from becoming the 24th player in history to amass 1,700, but his point stands.
In spots like these, there may not be a right answer.
"It's just a bad situation to be in when you're the other team, unfortunately," Street said. "You've got the best player in baseball the last four years, and you've got the best player in baseball over the last 14 years. That's exactly what they're facing when they put themselves in that situation."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez and Facebook , and listen to his podcast.