When the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim came to an agreement to end Albert Pujols’ 10-season tenure with the franchise only slightly prematurely, it seemed like a move that had almost no chance of backfiring, beyond a high likelihood of a brief spat of embarrassment.
After all, Pujols had been a below-average offensive player since 2016, and had been nothing but an offensive player since well before that.
If there was any doubt at all that the end of his career was nigh, it was just a soft squeak as the door closed. If not then, the end of Pujols’ Hall of Fame career was scheduled for September. And how much damage could he really do in the interim?
Unfortunately, the Angels failed to account for exactly two possibilities — or they did account for both, and simply did not care.
One? He could’ve latched back on with the St. Louis Cardinals, rediscovering a modicum of the magic he possessed in the early part of his career spent at Busch Stadium. The other? He could’ve headed to the Dodgers, where every marginal talent improves by at least 15%, likely more if they’re geared up for cross-town revenge.
Unfortunately, both of these devilishly magical options collided and crested on Tuesday night, when Pujols returned to St. Louis as a Dodger and drilled a home run to deep left in his first at-bat of the night, raising his OPS+ for his stint in blue all the way up to 112, decidedly above-average for the first time since the 2016 primaries.
The Angels gave Albert Pujols a shot at redemption.
Sure, Pujols filled out the smallest possible window after leaving Anaheim, and doubtlessly reached the highest ceiling allotted by his degenerating skills. But when Arte Moreno and Co. created such an unceremonious ending to a Hall of Fame career, it almost felt like the universe wouldn’t allow the slight to exist without a corresponding bit of vengeance.
And so, in large part because the Angels chose to be stingy with an underperforming star after five years (six? seven?) of not doing so whatsoever, Pujols landed on a Dodgers team with a backlog of first basemen, immediately carved out playing time anyway (without an NL DH, which is unthinkable), and has drilled 12 homers whole hitting .260 in 70 games’ worth of an exceptional swan song.
The toughest pill to swallow? Pujols’ homecoming on Tuesday might not have even been the peak of his newly-adjusted narrative. We might not even be close to that. Because, even as his 679th homer nestled itself in the left-field seats, Pujols was likely still licking his lips envisioning a playoff run yet to come.
You know, the stage on which he traditionally shines, and hasn’t visited since 2014, a depressing series in which he went 2-12 with a homer for the moribund Angels.
As another water-treading season closes in Anaheim, don’t trick yourself into thinking Pujols would’ve led a revolution here, bringing an undermanned team to the playoffs. He’s been a solid fill-in and influential contributor with the Dodgers, but he hasn’t been a star. He can’t do it all himself, at this point.
But it does look as if we’ll have to live with him maxing out his usefulness in the National League, collecting trophies as he ascends once again up his own narrative arc. And it’s our fault.
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