ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Albert Pujols circled this date on his calendar when the schedule came out last winter. His first game against the St. Louis Cardinals was certainly a success from a team standpoint, if not a personal one.
Jered Weaver earned his second win of an injury-plagued season with help from a five-run second inning, and the Los Angeles Angels extended their winning streak to seven games Tuesday night with a 5-1 victory over St. Louis in the Cardinals’ first game at Angel Stadium.
St. Louis was the only National League club that had never played at the “Big A,” having hosted the three previous interleague series between the teams in 2002, 2007 and 2010.
Pujols, a three-time NL MVP, spent his first 11 seasons with the Cardinals before signing a $240 million, 10-year contract with the Angels in December 2011. Facing his former club for the first time, he went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts and a walk as the designated hitter while Mark Trumbo started at first base.
“It was a little weird. But I was fine, guys. I swear. I’m being honest,” Pujols said. “I mean, it would have been a little different if it was in St. Louis. I mean, you can’t forget the special times you had with those guys during those 11 years there. That’s something nobody can take away — the success I had there and how those fans and everybody in the community treated me. Every time I get an opportunity to watch them, I root for them because I still have a lot of good friends there, and I still stay in touch with a lot of those guys. But these are three days that I won’t be able to root for them.”
The first time Pujols came up, he tapped catcher Yadier Molina’s shin guard with his bat and Molina tapped Pujols on the back of the helmet with his glove — a subtle but meaningful display of affection and respect between two All-Stars who were teammates for nine seasons and won two World Series rings together. Pujols then struck out, and Molina threw out J.B. Shuck at second for an inning-ending double play.
“It was cool to see him. He’s friends with a lot of us, and I’m sure he was excited to see us, just like we were to see him,” Cardinals third baseman David Freese said. “But I think Albert goes about every game the same way — whether it’s day one of the preseason or day one of the postseason. And that’s a huge reason why he’s so successful.”
Weaver (2-4) allowed a run, six hits and no walks over seven innings. The All-Star right-hander struck out five in his ninth start of the year, working with runners on base in every inning but the seventh.
“That’s what he does,” Freese said. “He’s obviously not throwing as hard as he used to, but he’s a gamer and he always has been. He made his pitches against a good offense. When guys get on, you have to shut the door. And he did.”
Weaver, who became a 20-game winner for the first time last year before a broken bone in his non-pitching arm sidelined him for more than six weeks this season, ended a streak of five winless starts that began after his 3-1 victory against the Dodgers on May 29 — his first game back from the injury.
“Coming back was kind of like spring training for me all over again, as far as building the pitch count and getting the arm strength back,” said the eight-year veteran, whose 104th big league victory tied his brother Jeff’s total. “I think the ball’s coming out a lot better than it had been, and that’s just a sign of the arm strength coming back and getting over that hump finally of 100 pitches, which was nice. I feel strong again, and hopefully I can maintain this through the rest of the season.”
The Cardinals loaded the bases in the eighth against Kevin Jepsen. Scott Downs came in and struck out rookie Matt Adams before finishing a spectacular 3-6-1 double play, after Trumbo made a slick play in the hole on a hard-hit grounder by Freese.
“Mark’s made some really good plays for us,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “But the situation being what it was, I mean, the ball was a rocket to his backhand. And to be able to turn a double play on that was impressive.”
Lance Lynn (10-3) gave up five runs and nine hits in six innings, striking out eight. The 26-year-old right-hander, coming off a 4-3 loss last Wednesday at Houston, has dropped back-to-back outings for the first time in 1½ big league seasons spanning 48 starts.
Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday was a late scratch because of tightness in his neck, hampering a lineup that had averaged a league-best 7.04 runs of support for Lynn in his other 16 starts this season. Molina was 2 for 4, raising his NL-leading average to .347.
“It was good to see Yaddy and good to see him having the year that he’s having,” Pujols said. “I would love for him to win the batting title. He’s like my little brother, and I’d do anything for him. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody prepare himself for a game like he does.”
The Angels sent 10 batters to the plate in the second. Lynn gave up singles to six of his first seven hitters, including run-scoring hits by Trumbo, Alberto Callaspo, Erick Aybar and Shuck. Aybar scored when second baseman Matt Carpenter misplayed Mike Trout’s grounder up the middle for an error with a chance to force Shuck. Lynn ended the inning by striking out Pujols and Josh Hamilton.
The Cardinals got on the board in the fourth. Allen Craig reached on an infield single, was held up at third on a double by Adams and scored on a groundout by Freese.
NOTES: A ceremonial first pitch was thrown by Stan Musial’s grandson, Brian Schwarze, with Pujols as his catcher. Musial, who died on Jan. 19 at age 92, was honored with a video tribute following the first inning. “Stan was my buddy,” Pujols said. “I wish I would have had more opportunities to talk to him. When he walked into the clubhouse, it was like a light that was so bright. It was amazing. Everybody would stop what they were doing.” … Shortly after Pujols joined the Angels, he took offense to promotional billboards put up throughout Southern California that heralded him as “El Hombre” — or “The Man.” Pujols requested they be taken down, saying that only Musial — whose moniker was “Stan The Man” — should ever be referred to in that manner. … The Angels wore circular patches with Musial’s name and No. 6 on the front of their jerseys, which they will do throughout this series. The idea for the unique tribute came during spring training. “It’s out of the respect that everyone in baseball has for Stan Musial and his legacy, and obviously the connection with Albert,” Scioscia said. “We wanted to honor a great person and a great ballplayer in a very classy way, and we’re proud to wear them.”