Pujols homer lifts Angels to 5-4 win over Pirates

PITTSBURGH -- Some hitters just find success in certain ballparks. For Los Angeles Angels 36-year-old slugger Albert Pujols, one of those places is PNC Park.

Coming into Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Pujols had .377 with 29 home runs and 85 RBI in the Pirates' home on Pittsburgh's North Side.

While more Pujols success wasn't unexpected, career home run number 30 couldn't have come at a better time, as he hit a two-run shot off Pirates reliever Tony Watson in the top of the eighth inning to lead the Angels to a 5-4 win.

"Albert, his numbers are pretty incredible in most places," manager Mike Scioscia said. "I know he's hit well in the past. He's driving in runs for us. You never know how a game is going to turn out or what's going to help you win a game, but you know there's a good chance he's going to be in the middle of it and he came up big today."

Watson (1-2), the Pirates usually reliable set-up man, has hit a bit of a rough patch. He has now allowed seven runs in his last 2 1/3 innings.

"(The pitch to Pujols) was an up-and-in fastball," Watson explained. "It was thrown well. He's been around for a long time. He had one thing on his mind that at-bat, and that was to give his team the lead."

Watson failed to protect the lead for Pirates starter Gerrit Cole, who allowed three runs over 6 2/3 innings.

Deolis Guerra (1-0) struck out three over 1 2/3 innings of relief and picked up his first win with the Angels.

The Pirates loaded the bases in the ninth against closer Huston Street, but he was able to induce a game-ending double play from Sean Rodriguez.

"It was a first-pitch slider and I thought there was no chance we'd turn it," Street said. "As soon as the ball was hit, I started thinking about what pitches I was going to throw to (Matt) Joyce. I really did. That was one of the quickest turns of my career."

An ineffective outing from Los Angeles starting pitcher Hector Santiago opened the door for the Pirates' offense. They took advantage of five walks and a hit batsman to take an early lead. Of the 90 pitches thrown by Santiago, just 55 of them were strikes.

Starling Marte plated Jordy Mercer with an RBI single in the first. With the bases loaded in the second, Santiago walked Gregory Polanco and hit Jung Ho Kang, bringing in a pair of runs.

Still, Scioscia and Santiago agree that the lefty is "close" to returning to form.

"It's right there. It's a matter of inches," Santiago said. "That's what we always say about the game. I'm missing some strikes that are just off the plate against righties and some pitches that were just off the plate against lefties. It's very close. The last three games were kind of good velocity-wise. It's almost there."

After Pujols' sacrifice fly scored Yunel Escobar in the first, Cole allowed just one hit over the next five innings, but got into trouble in the seventh, when C.J. Cron and Gregorio Petit hit back-to-back RBI doubles, chasing the Pirates' ace. Marte, playing center field in place of usual starter Andrew McCutchen, who was given the day off, made a diving catch on an Escobar line drive to end the threat.


Los Angeles shortstop Andrelton Simmons is expected to begin a minor-league rehab assignment on Monday and could be active as soon as the weekend. Simmons, who had surgery to repair a torn ligament in his thumb, has been out of the Angels' lineup since May 9.

Angels relief pitcher Joe Smith was unavailable with a hamstring injury. He is considered day-to-day by Scioscia.

Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli (foot) and third baseman David Freese (hand) each missed their third consecutive game.


Angels: RHP Matt Shoemaker (3-6, 5.50 ERA) will take the mound as the Angels visit the New York Yankees to start a four-game series. Shoemaker has allowed two runs or fewer in three consecutive starts and lowered his ERA by nearly three runs in that span. It will be the first meeting between the clubs in 2016. The Angels were swept in their only visit to New York in 2015.

Pirates: LHP Jonathon Niese (5-2, 4.36 ERA) will face his former club, the New York Mets, for the first time since being traded to Pittsburgh in December in exchange for second baseman Neil Walker. Niese has induced 89 ground ball outs this season, which leads the Pirates' staff, and his 1.75 ratio of ground balls to fly balls is the seventh-highest of qualifying National League pitchers.