Pujols' savvy starts surprising double steal

April 20th, 2021

ANAHEIM -- Angels slugger doesn’t have the speed he once had, but it doesn’t mean the 21-year veteran doesn’t have the instincts to make a heads-up play on the bases.

Pujols helped spark a rally by stealing third base as part of a double steal off Rangers right-hander Kyle Cody in a four-run seventh inning during Monday night's 6-4 loss to the Rangers at Angel Stadium. Pujols noticed that nobody was paying attention to him at second base and promptly broke for third and reached without a throw, giving him his first stolen base since Aug. 19, 2019.

“Just heady, he’s ahead of the game at all times,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “Just a great play, great veteran play. Bully for him. Great job.”

The double steal paid immediate dividends, as Kurt Suzuki roped a single into right field to bring home Pujols, while José Iglesias was held up at third. But three pitches later, Cody uncorked a wild pitch that scored Iglesias and allowed Suzuki to get to second. It made it a two-run game for the Angels, as they tried to claw back from a 6-0 deficit.

“He and Iglesias got together on it, maybe eye contact or whatever, knowing the pitcher was slow,” Maddon said. “And plus, he wasn’t even checking them out.”

Surprisingly, Pujols has had success stealing bases with the Angels in recent years, as he knows when to pick his spots despite consistently being ranked among the slowest players in the Majors by Statcast’s Sprint Speed metric. In fact, the 10-time All-Star has stolen 13 straight bases without being caught, dating back to Sept. 19, 2015.

But it was still a rarity for a player of Pujols’ age to steal a base. He became the oldest player to swipe a bag since Ichiro Suzuki, who did it with the Marlins on July 17, 2016 against the Cardinals when he was 42 years, 269 days old.

At 41 years, 94 days old, Pujols also became the oldest player to steal a base while playing first base in a game since Julio Franco in 2007. And he's only one of three Angels to steal a base after turning 41, joining Raúl Ibañez and Eddie Murray. He’s the oldest of that group to steal third for the Halos.

It was the 115th career stolen base for Pujols, who has at least one in each of his 20 full seasons, not including last year's shortened 60-game slate. He stole as many as 16 in a season in both 2005 and ‘09.

His surprising swipe of third was part of a rally that saw the Angels string together five consecutive hits, starting with a solo homer from Justin Upton. The Angels also had the go-ahead run at the plate in the ninth with two outs, but Luis Rengifo grounded out to second against closer Ian Kennedy to end the game.

“It was really good stuff all around,” Maddon said. “A lot of our guys put together great at-bats. It wasn’t always a hit but some great at-bats. Loved it. We’ve been doing that all year. As a manager, when your team fights like that to the last drop, there’s not a lot to lament.”