Pujols has last word with decisive blow

Angels DH hits 18th go-ahead homer in ninth to join elite company

May 15th, 2016

SEATTLE -- Albert Pujols swung so hard he almost lost his balance on the follow-through. Steve Cishek's ninth-inning sinker had tailed back out over the heart of the plate and Pujols had unleashed his mightiest hack, sending the baseball soaring just above the small scoreboard that sits beyond the left-field fence and vaulting his Angels to a 9-7 victory on Saturday night.

Pujols, the high-priced slugger who has spent the first six weeks begging for hits to fall in, walked a couple of steps in admiration, tossed his bat aside with his left hand and proceeded his trot around the bases. Cishek, the Mariners closer who was only 24 hours removed from his second blown save, remained on one knee and stared off toward center field.

Safeco Field, stuffed with 42,038 fans who were buzzing all night, fell silent.

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"It's awesome," Angels reliever Joe Smith said. "That's why you play, right? It's fun. Everybody loves the cheers and stuff, but sometimes that silence is even better."

The Angels' bullpen, gassed from a 14-game stretch in which it absorbed a Major League-high 58 1/3 innings, had just blown a four-run lead by allowing five runs in the bottom of the eighth. But with one out in the top of the ninth, Kole Calhoun was hit in the left foot by a Cishek fastball and Mike Trout followed with a line-drive single.

Pujols came next, and didn't miss his pitch.

His decisive home run -- his eighth on the year and the 568th of his career, one away from Rafael Palmeiro for 12th on the all-time list -- marked his 18th go-ahead homer in the ninth inning or later, fourth-most since 2000. Only Jason Giambi, Adam Dunn and David Ortiz, each with 19, have done it more frequently.

It was the first home run Cishek had surrendered to a right-handed hitter all year.

"It was no doubt," Cishek said. "As soon as I released it, it didn't come out of my hand right. It was loud off the bat. He put a great swing on it, and it was a no-doubter."

The Angels, who entered Seattle with 10 losses over a 12-game span, have rallied late on three straight nights. At home against the Cardinals on Thursday, they entered the bottom of the ninth trailing by five, put the winning run on first base with one out and came up just short. In Friday's series opener in Seattle, they used C.J. Cron's ninth-inning two-run single off Cishek for a comeback win. On Saturday, they rode Pujols' long drive.

Their offense has now plated 26 runs over the last three games, after scoring only eight times in the previous five contests.

"We fight, man," Pujols said. "We don't give up. Even though we haven't been playing the way we wanted over the last month or so, you have a lot of guys here that fight and give everything they have, leave it out on the field."

Pujols entered the game batting only .201/.270/.373, some of which was a product of poor luck.

He said he felt good ever since the team left Chicago three and a half weeks ago, and took solace in the fact he was taking his walks and avoiding the strikeout. And he believed -- hoped, at least - that his luck would at some point turn.

"I feel like I have 15 guys on the field every time I hit it, because I don't find any holes," Pujols said. "But you have to stay positive, man. I have to stay positive and know that I've been in this situation before. I know the Lord has my back. I'm here for a reason. I know I can play this game. I just have to enjoy the way I've been doing it all year."