ANAHEIM, Calif. -- When Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia held a 20-minute, closed-door meeting Sunday to remind his players there was plenty of baseball left this season and plenty of time to accomplish their goals, nobody in the room knew what he meant more than Albert Pujols.
In fact, a slight smile comes over Pujols’ face when he talks about the Angels being counted out of the playoff race.
This is nothing for Pujols. He remembers last season when the St. Louis Cardinals were five games back in the wild-card race with 15 games left in the season. You know how that story turned out.
“For as bad as we were playing, we’re only one and half games back [of a wild-card spot],” Pujols said. “You’ll take that anytime. There’s a lot of baseball left. I was in St. Louis last year when we put together a run and won the World Series. You don’t play 162 games for nothing. Nothing is impossible in this game. We just need to keep going out there. We have to get back on track.”
The Angels have begun to get back on track over the last two games, winning back-to-back games and a series for the first time since July and picking up a game on both Texas and Oakland Wednesday night. And even though Pujols took Wednesday off, he has begun to get back on track, as well. After going hitless in 12 at-bats in the Seattle series, Pujols was 4-for-8 in his last two games, with a double, two home runs and six RBI.
“We just need to continue to push and understand that we’re a pretty good ballclub,” Pujols said. “Everybody goes through (slumps). Everybody has to go through that for you to be a championship ballclub. If everything is roses, there’s nothing to grow and to get better from. When tough situations come, how can you handle that? I think we handled it pretty well in April and now we’re doing it again. We have a good group and we’ve been there before and we know there’s no time to panic or anything. There’s a lot of baseball left.”
Scoscia has used examples such as Pujols’ last season in St. Louis, Torii Hunter’s playoff runs in Minnesota, LaTroy Hawkins’ magical run with the Rockies in 2007 and even some of his own experiences, such as the Angels’ World Series run in 2002.
“We’ve just mentioned it in passing,” Scoscia said. “This baseball season you have to play from start to finish and a lot of things come up where you feel like you’re buried, but it’s really an opportunity to show what your club can do. The Cardinals did it last year and the Twins have done it in the past. All of that experience is something that you draw from.”
Pujols has continually peppered his younger teammates, including Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo, with words of wisdom this season, all while he struggles to find his form at times on the field. That he has begun to pick up his production during the final stretch of the season while reminding his teammates they are right where they want to be could prove to be bigger than any home run he could have hit in April or May.
The team veterans know where he’s coming from, according to Pujols.
“We know how baseball is,” he said. “We know it’s a long season and we know we have a great ballclub to have a pretty good chance to be in the playoffs. And when you’re in the playoffs, as you know, anything can happen. I think we have enough veteran guys here that know how to do it and handle things and the young guys are figuring it out and it’s a beautiful thing.”
What hasn’t been so beautiful at times this season has been the Angels’ consistency. They can look like a finished work of art one night and a blank canvas the next without a brush in sight. No one knows this better than Pujols, who may not have the answers but knows from experience there’s nothing wrong with some issues in August.
“I wish I knew what it is,” Pujols said. “It’s the same thing I tell myself sometimes. What happened two weeks ago when I was killing everything and [against Seattle] the same pitch I’m missing it, fouling it off or hitting ground balls. I just laugh at myself. I think that’s the beautiful thing about this game. Sometimes when you think you have it figured out, you don’t. It’s so humbling.”