Homers from Albert Pujols, Will Smith lift Dodgers over Diamondbacks

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·7 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 20: Los Angeles Dodgers Albert Pujols (55) homers to right off Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Merrill Kelly (29) scoring Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Will Smith (16) in the bottom of the second inning at Dodger Stadium on Thursday, May 20, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Albert Pujols crosses the plate after he homers off Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Merrill Kelly, scoring Will Smith in the bottom of the second inning at Dodger Stadium on Thursday. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Albert Pujols has gone from over-the-hill to over-the-moon, from 41-year-old castaway to rejuvenated slugger, a two-week transformation the first baseman achieved with a 35-mile drive up the 5 Freeway and a color-scheme change from Angels red to Dodgers blue.

Designated for assignment and released by the Angels, Pujols found a home with the defending World Series-champion Dodgers, and he rewarded that faith with his first homer for his new club, a two-run shot to right field in the second inning of Thursday night’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Will Smith, who idolized Pujols while growing up in Louisville, Ky., as Pujols was building his Hall-of-Fame resume with the St. Louis Cardinals, then followed suit in the seventh, banging a tie-breaking solo homer to left to lift the Dodgers to a 3-2 victory and a four-game sweep in Chavez Ravine.

Kenley Jansen, the seventh pitcher in a bullpen relay, struck out two of three in the ninth for his 10th save.

The Dodgers (26-18) have won eight of nine entering a three-game series in San Francisco, where the Giants own a major league-best 28-16 record, and Pujols has played a role in the recent run, with three hits and four RBIs in 11 at-bats.

“I think Albert would argue that he’s more energized by being a Dodger and being around his teammates than he’s infusing [energy] into our guys,” manager Dave Roberts said. “For me personally, I think we’re getting a lot of the benefit.

“Seeing the conversations, his joy around the ballpark, his tone, I know he’s kind of revitalized. He’s been with a couple of ballclubs in his career, but this is a resurgence, and I know he wouldn’t rather be any place in the world right now.”

With one out in the second and Smith aboard after a leadoff single, Pujols went the other way with a 91-mph cut-fastball form Arizona starter Merrill Kelly, muscling an opposite-field two-run homer to right for a 2-0 lead.

It was the 668th career homer for Pujols, who ranks fifth behind Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Alex Rodriguez on baseball’s all-time homer list, and his 3,256th hit, which moved Pujols past Eddie Murray and into 12th place on baseball’s all-time hit list.

“Yeah, that was special,” Smith said of the Pujols homer. “I’ll remember being on base when he hit his first homer as a Dodger, getting a high-five from him when he touched home plate. I’ll always remember that.

“It’s pretty cool, pretty surreal, but I look at him as a teammate now, not really as an idol. Here’s here to help us win a championship.”

As part of the team’s ring ceremony before the April 9 home opener, Pujols, then in the final season of his 10-year, $240-million deal with the Angels, recorded a video congratulating Smith, 26. Thursday night, Smith and Pujols homered to account for all three Dodgers runs.

“It’s awesome, because he told me he grew up watching me play, and I’m like, ‘Please, don’t, you make me feel older,’ ” Pujols said “But it’s great to see the talent. He’s pretty special. When he’s hitting in the cage, I keep my eye on him.

Dodgers pitcher David Price warms up.
Dodgers pitcher David Price warms up before the start against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Dodger Stadium on Thursday. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

“He has a really special swing and knows what he wants to do. He’s a very mature player, and he’s a heck of a catcher behind the plate. Look at throw he made in the eighth inning.”

David Price opened the game for the Dodgers with two scoreless, three-hit innings, and Jimmy Nelson followed with two dominant innings in which he struck out five of six batters.

Alex Vesia struck out two of three in a scoreless fifth before yielding to Joe Kelly, who yielded a one-out double to Ketel Marte and caught too much of the plate with a 1-and-2 knuckle-curve to Eduardo Escobar, who lined a two-run homer — his 11th of the season — to right-center for a 2-2 tie.

The Diamondbacks took advantage of errors by center fielder Chris Taylor and third baseman Justin Turner to put runners on first and third with two outs, but left-hander Victor González replaced Kelly and struck out Domingo Leyba to end the sixth and struck out two of three in a one-two-three seventh.

Smith led off the seventh with his fifth homer of the season, giving the Dodgers a 3-2 lead. Blake Treinen threw a scoreless eighth with an assist from Smith, who gunned down pinch-runner Tim Locastro attempting to steal second to end the inning, before yielding to Jansen.

Eduardo Escobar had lined a two-out single to center off Treinen and was replaced by Locastro, the speedy outfielder who was successful on 30 of 31 big-league stolen-base attempts since 2017.

Dodgers center fielder Chris Taylor commits a fielding error on a ball hit by Arizona Diamondbacks' Josh Reddick.
Dodgers center fielder Chris Taylor (3) commits a fielding error on a ball hit by Arizona Diamondbacks' Josh Reddick (22) while Dodgers' Mookie Betts (50) looks on in the top of the sixth at Dodger Stadium on Thursday. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

The Dodgers have struggled to contain the running game, yielding a major league-high 40 stolen bases in 50 attempts, but Treinen threw over to first four times before firing a 1-0, 96-mph fastball, giving Smith a better chance to throw out Locastro, who played in the Dodgers organization from 2015-2017.

“You know he’s trying to get into scoring position,” Smith said. “Down a run, two outs, he’s gonna go, that’s what he does. Blake did a good job picking over a few times, and that probably kept him from getting too big of a jump.

“Blake was slide-stepping, so we did all the little things we could do to get a little edge, and when he does go, make a good throw down there. … I know [Locastro] pretty well from when he was with us, so when I talk to him, I can always hold that over his head.”

How long Smith plays with Pujols will be determined by how well Pujols hits. No matter how Pujols’ Dodgers tenure plays out, Smith can always say he was a teammate of a three-time National League most valuable player and two-time World Series champion who he looked up to as a kid.

“It’s been awesome,” Smith said of his first week with Pujols. “He came in, he’s been a presence since day one, and he brought a ton of energy, he’s happy to be here. That kind of lit us up a bit.”

Rehab report

Center fielder Cody Bellinger and utility man Zach McKinstry will begin minor league rehabilitation stints with triple-A Oklahoma City on Friday.

Bellinger suffered a hairline fracture of his left fibula on April 5. McKinstry was batting .296 with an .883 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, three homers and 14 RBIs in 17 games when he suffered a right-oblique strain on April 21.

Roberts isn’t sure how long the rehab stints would last.

“They’re both ready to go; I think they’re both bored with the rehab and want to get out and play,” Roberts said.

“We’ll see how it goes, taking at-bats, seeing how they recover being on their feet, and we’ll kind of read and react then.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.