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Pujols punishes crazy windup for 657th HR

@RhettBollinger
July 29, 2020

ANAHEIM -- Albert Pujols hit career homer No. 657 in the Angels’ home opener, a 10-2 win over the Mariners on Tuesday night, and it came with reliever Nestor Cortes trying to fool him with an incredibly slowed down delivery. It was part of a strong collective effort from the

ANAHEIM -- Albert Pujols hit career homer No. 657 in the Angels’ home opener, a 10-2 win over the Mariners on Tuesday night, and it came with reliever Nestor Cortes trying to fool him with an incredibly slowed down delivery. It was part of a strong collective effort from the offense, as all nine starters in the lineup reached base safely and the 10 runs tied a club record for a home opener, set in 1980 against Cleveland.

Pujols, facing an 0-2 count, didn’t fall for Cortes' antics and jumped all over a sinker over the heart of the plate, sending it over the left-field fence. It was the first homer of the year for Pujols, who stood to admire it before trotting to first base. The solo blast, which had an exit velocity of 97.1 mph and was projected by Statcast to travel 373 feet, gave the Angels a 6-2 lead in the fifth.

Box score

"His timing was much better," manager Joe Maddon said. "He clicked it really good. You knew it was a homer the moment he hit it. I think he knew it also. He just clicked it and kept it fair."

Pujols, in his 20th Major League season, is now three homers away from tying Hall of Famer Willie Mays for fifth on the all-time list. The 40-year-old is already the lone member of the 650-homer, 650-double club. Maddon saw some positive signs from Pujols in the first series despite him going 1-for-12 at the plate against the A’s and was pleased to see him get going.

"He was frisky tonight, and played really well," Maddon said. "You just see the bounce in his step. He was ready to rock and roll. So that was a good indicator for us and for him and just keep it moving out there in that direction. The ability to give him rest on occasion I think is going to be valuable."

But he wasn’t the Angels player to hit a key homer on Tuesday, as catcher Max Stassi smacked a three-run blast off lefty Justus Sheffield in the third. It was the first homer of the year for Stassi as well.

Third baseman Anthony Rendon also hit a two-run homer in his Angels debut in the eighth inning. Rendon missed the first four games of the season with an oblique injury.

“It felt good just to be out there,” Anthony said. “Just to be out there and having a live ball coming at you. … It felt good to be able to contribute to the team and get that first win [while playing] out of the way.”

David Fletcher also kept up his blistering start to the year with two hits and two walks to set the tone atop the lineup, while Shohei Ohtani showed a positive sign after struggling early in the year with an RBI double in the sixth that had an exit velocity of 111.9 mph. It was a nice bounceback for the Angels, who hit .172 (5-for-29) with runners in scoring position in Oakland, losing three of four.

"It was just a really good night for a lot of people tonight," Maddon said. "How about Stassi? I've not seen this guy before this year. And I know he had some issues hitting in the past, but I'm not seeing that. You could talk about everybody. They were outstanding tonight."

Maddon was especially pleased to see Ohtani come through, as he was 1-for-12 on the season before his double off the fence in the sixth. Ohtani also failed to record an out on the mound in his start on Sunday, so Maddon is hopeful this will help turn it around for Ohtani mentally.

"He needs his own personal self-confidence,” Maddon said. “That's all he needs right now. Once his confidence soars, all of a sudden the balls will be going way up on those tarps in right field. He was more on time, and the hands were firing at the right moment. It's all about self-confidence, and once that arrives, he's just going to take off."

Rhett Bollinger covers the Angels for MLB.com. He previously covered the Twins from 2011-18. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.