ANAHEIM, Calif. – Albert Pujols generally isn't much for explaining himself, certainly not in matters of the batter's box, because, as he said, "Only God knows my swing better than me."
He believes in process, and in the sweat of the pregame, and the toggle of the video player, and the purity of the quest.
While all quite earnest and noble, that, for the moment, leaves him with another forgettable April. Held against a .327 career batting average, 445 home runs and three MVP awards from the other league, and against whatever he'll post come Oct. 1 in this one, a month of .217 and no home runs is barely a heartbeat.
Yet, as Pujols seeks something like familiarity in his swing, his new franchise searches for precision as well. Side by side, Pujols and the Los Angeles Angels were to be – some would insist are to be – great. There is time for that, of course.
But April has become May. The Texas Rangers have won 17 games, more than any team in the game. The Angels won their eighth Monday night. And Pujols, late in the evening, was to answer several questions about a ball he hit that very nearly was a home run, except it veered foul against the pleading of a smallish and hopeful crowd at Angel Stadium.
Pujols would have rooted for it too, except he knew he'd flushed that ball too far out in front and that it would hook long before the pole. He was the first in the ballpark to turn away.
"It wasn't my swing," he said.
He'd spent the better part of the past few weeks somewhat staggered in his batter's box, chasing sliders and lunging at the ghosts of fastballs. This is what the game does to hitters, even, turns out, Pujols, who has had months similar to this, just not on a new contract, wearing a new uniform, and in front of new crowds. It can be a lot to answer for, even for the single-minded.
After contributing a soft double in four at-bats of a 4-3 win over the Minnesota Twins, Pujols reported he was "feeling OK" and "seeing the ball decent."
Still, the lack of power hounds him in the commentary it draws. The expectations arise from the standards of his past, the numbers he proudly wears, and the affection they brought him in free agency.
He shrugged. Come see him in September. He remains an affable Angel. He is finding a routine. He believes it is coming, and it is.
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"I know I can hit a home run," he said. "When it's going to happen, I don't know. Maybe it's tonight, the next day, next month. I don't know."
Pujols is not the only afflicted Angel. The offense is underperforming, nearly end to end, although Torii Hunter and Kendrys Morales have perked up lately. Their leadoff hitters were the worst in the league across April. Manager Mike Scioscia has written 20 different batting orders in 23 games, and 15 have been losers.
A rugged month, to be sure.
"Hey, man, it was a tough month for everybody," he said, not shirking his own struggles, and feeling for the plights of others. "Everybody.
"It's really crazy seeing the whole ballclub going through this, this little funk."
Apparently, Pujols had shared similar thoughts with the rest of the position players in a hitters meeting before Monday's game. He'd told them he believed they were close to turning it around. Then, reportedly, hitting coach Mickey Hatcher revealed some of Pujols' message to the local media. Hatcher presumably meant well. It played poorly with Pujols, however.
"To tell you the truth," he said, "Mickey shouldn't even tell you guys what we say in a meeting. That's private. This is our ballclub. And I'm going to tell him he shouldn't be telling you guys that. No disrespect to him."
Pujols honors such notions, just as he honors his way and his game. Yes, it's about results, and yes he undoubtedly wishes his were better, because the Angels are 8-15 and he's had as much to do with the 15 as the 8. But the man is relentless in the chase, and sometimes – for a day or 23 days – that has to be good enough.
He's 92 at-bats in. So, perhaps the majority of the previous 6,314 went better. He saw the ball better. His swing was better. The results were better.
So, his teams were better. He's that good, or can be. What he does now is assume the product follows the effort, the way it always has before. Because, actually, his approach suggests some desperation to get it right. He is swinging where he almost always laid off. He is assertive where he once let the pitch – even the entire plate appearance – pass.
That's where April went, and how May arrived.
When Pujols goes right, the Angels will, too. Scioscia called him "the one guy that can do a lot to start to get this ship going in the right direction."
It's his batter's box. His swing. And as he said, he knows it better than almost anybody. The rest will come when it comes.
"It's just baseball," he said. "Baseball's not going to beat me up."
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