Talk about pressure. Albert Pujols only thought signing a 10-year, US$246 million (Dh902.8m) contract with the Los Angeles Angels, the third richest in MLB history, would heap more expectation on his shoulders. Then he picked the worst time in his career to go dry at the plate.
Entering the weekend, Pujols had not hit a home run in his first 26 games with his new team, while batting .202 (21-for-104). The Angels were in last place in the American League West at 10-17, seven-and-a-half games behind the Texas Rangers already.
His slump has developed into such big news that his at-bats total without a home run can be seen scrolling along the bottom of television screens on the ESPN ticker. The number of at-bats hit triple digits when Pujols went one-for-five on Wednesday night against the Minnesota Twins.
That was the rare night in which Pujols got a respite from all the negative attention because his teammate Jered Weaver threw a no-hitter, the 10th by an Angels pitcher.
But Pujols knows the spotlight will stay on him until he finds a way to generate form at the plate.
"I can't wait until I hit a home run so you guys will stop talking about it," Pujols told the Orange County Register recently. "I don't know when it's going to happen - maybe tomorrow, maybe next week, maybe next month. I know I have power. I know I can hit the ball corner to corner ... I don't get caught up in that. I know I have 445 home runs in my career for a reason."
Pujols, 37th on baseball's home run list, is the first player ever to hit 30 or more home runs in each of his first 11 seasons. In those 11 seasons with the St Louis Cardinals, he averaged a home run every 14.2 at-bats. But things have not come so easy in a new city and a new league.
"I've never been a guy to make excuses," Pujols said. "I don't want to blame that I'm new in this league ... It's the same game."
Pujols is striking out at the highest rate of his career, and drawing fewer walks - one every 18.3 plate appearances, as opposed to once every 7.6 - all signs that he might be trying too hard at the plate, although that's not what he told Fox Sports earlier this week.
"I don't try to hit home runs," Pujols said. "I know I can hit home runs. Whenever they come, they're going to come. I'm trying to have good, quality at-bats. It's a long season.
"At the end, my numbers are going to be there and nobody's going to talk about what happened in April."
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