The Angels have made plenty of “bad” history so far this season. They’ve matched the most shutouts suffered through the first 36 games (eight). Ervin Santana matched the league record for consecutive starts without any runs in support (five). Albert Pujols went a career-worst 110 at-bats before hitting his first home run this season. All in all, if there were a dubious, unfortunate record to be broken, this Angels team went out to break it.
Last night in Seattle, however, some positive history got made. First, Albert Pujols hit his 450th career home run in the top of the first with a towering shot that thudded off the upper deck facade. He became the fourth-youngest player in baseball history to reach 450 home runs behind only Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr. and Jimmie Foxx. It was Pujols fifth home run of the season, all coming since May 6, and the second in his last three games. He also added a stolen base, a pair of singles, and scored the third run of the game on a single by Kendrys Morales.
That was more than enough offensive support for Dan Haren, who made some history of his own while snapping a four game losing streak. Haren struck out a career-high 14 batters on Thursday, including his 1,500th career strikeout when he got Michael Saunders looking in the eighth. He would go back out for the ninth inning, despite already throwing 110 pitches. He would get Alex Liddi for the fourth time in the game, struck out Ichiro Suzuki swinging, and finished the game off with a Kyle Seager ground out.
It was Haren’s sixth shutout and 16th complete game of his career. This gem was particularly dominant as he allowed just four hits, letting just one Mariner runner to reach third and he surrendered zero walks. Only one other pitcher in Angels history has struck out more batters without issuing a free pass.
The milestones will be extremely cathartic for both Angels stars. Pujols has had to answer questions non-stop about his power outage to start the season. Signing a giant contract this offseason brought giant expectations with it. Expectations that looked to be overwhelming the future hall of fame slugger. But he has turned things around in May, knocking all five of his homers in the last month and now leads the team in RBI with 22 after going 14 games without a single RBI during April. The hitting, which we were told would come, seems to be arriving.
Haren has enjoyed a dominant run as an Angel over the last few seasons, being a Jered Weaver away from being the resident unquestioned ace. That’s why this season has been so frustrating to watch. Just one win before Thursday, losses in his last four starts, and only two runs in support over his four game losing streak. Add in lingering back stiffness that had hurt Haren’s control, and this start will go a long way to getting his co-ace confidence back.
After two months of disappointment from this club, having a night of positive milestones could be just the thing to bust this team out of their collective funk over the first quarter of the season. Something needs to because we can’t exactly fire Mickey Hatcher again, now can we.