Baseball is an ever-changing game. In a larger sense, the game evolves. The short inning specialists, the cutter, the designated hitter, pitcher friendly eras, hitter friendly eras. But what makes this game so interesting is the fact that it not only changes across decades, but from pitch to pitch as well. We saw a beautiful example of this on Saturday in the Angels and Rangers matchup in Arlington.
Albert Pujols will go down as one of the greatest hitters of all time. There’s no debating this, he’s a first ballot Hall of Famer. Last April and May, “experts” everywhere had made it clear that he wasn’t the elite, murderous hitter he once was. The stats they used backed it up and his performance most certainly did. He still managed to finish the year a .285 average, 50 doubles and 30 homeruns. This was a down year for him.
Enter 2013, Pujols is coming off knee-surgery and is struggling with plantar fasciitis in his heel. He looks heavy footed, and it would be easy for anyone to just write him off as old and decaying (a frightening thought for Angels fans given he has nine years left on his contract). Before Saturday’s matchup he was a combined 1-14 on the young season, that’s an .071 bating average. But it would appear Rangers’ skipper Ron Washington knew better. He remembers two years ago when Pujols absolutely destroyed the Rangers in the World Series. Old or not, Washington was going to take a wait and see approach to the 33-year-old Pujols this game.
With his staff ace on the mound (everyone knows Darvish is their best pitcher, but for whatever reason, Harrison is their “ace”), Washington decides to throw to Pujols in the first inning. The ball lands 430 feet away in dead center and the Angels have a 2-0 lead. Washington then decides, it just isn’t worth it to pitch to this guy hitting under .100 on the season. Harrison intentionally walks Pujols in the 2nd inning and the 4th inning. In the 6th inning with Jason Frasor now in the game, Washington decides to give it one more go with Albert at the plate. Pujols responded by launching one out to deep LF, his second homerun of the game. Now a new pitcher, Joe Ortiz is in the game for Pujols’ 8th inning and last plate appearance. Washington learns his lesson, and intentionally walks Albert Pujols for the third time.
Just when we think a player is old, just when we think he’s in for a rough April, he goes and reminds us that he’s Albert Pujols. By the end of the game his batting average had climbed up to .182 but his OBP rose to .391. On Sunday, the Rangers are throwing Yu Darvish at the Angels. Perhaps Washington will feel more confident in pitching to Albert this time. But if Pujols hits another homerun, you can expect the intentional walk parade to begin like it’s 2004 again. It’s funny how one at bat can change everyone’s mind about a player. Before the first inning of Saturday’s game, Pujols was cold and the middle of the Angels order was toothless. After the first inning of Saturday’s game, everytime josh Hamilton and Mark Trumbo came to the plate, they did so with runners on as a result of his walk, or the bases clear as a result of his long ball. It’s a beautiful thing the way the game changes.