|Everyone talks about Pujols' bat, but he's also a Gold Glove first baseman. (US Presswire)|
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The big moment came Friday afternoon. Mike Scioscia sat at his desk, pen in hand.
How do you write a lineup card with Albert Pujols?
"You write his name first, then you fill in around it," Scioscia quipped.
The man can afford to joke. And smile. And think and scheme and dream. With a lineup this stacked, and a rotation this filthy, you'd better believe this opening night was different than any opener around here in a long, long time.
"Waaaaay different," said Torii Hunter, who, in his fifth Angels' opener, put the finishing touch on a 5-0 halo-rific evening with an RBI single to cap a five-run eighth.
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Kansas City was in town, but the Angels are the ones on the verge of royalty.
"I think it was a little more electric," said Jered Weaver of the atmosphere, though he could just as well have been referring to his own 10-strikeout stuff. "Obviously, there's been talk in offseasons before about picking up free agents, and it hasn't worked out.
"But with Pujols, C.J. Wilson, LaTroy Hawkins, Chris Iannetta ... you can't help but be excited.
Even in a land stocked with scriptwriters and screenwriters, no one could come up with a Hollywood ending on Night One for Pujols. History will record his first evening under the halo as middling, 0 for 3 with an intentional walk.
He lined into a double play against soft-tossing lefty Bruce Chen in the first. He popped a foul fly to third in the fourth. Then Royals reliever Aaron Crow ate his lunch in the seventh, punching Pujols out on three nasty strikes. Slider, fastball, slider. Good morning, good afternoon, good night.
"Tough," Pujols said of that particular at-bat. "You were watching the game like I was. Obviously, I was a little closer. He struck out Howie Kendrick, myself and Hunter. He made great pitches."
But, ah, details.
Who's tracking 'em?
(Besides, in last year's opener, what turned out to be his last in St. Louis, Pujols grounded into three double plays. So he's already ahead of the game).
What Pujols will remember most about this night is the end result, same obsession as he had when he wore the old uniform with birds on his chest.
"The win," he said, breaking into his biggest grin of the evening. "And the great [pre-game] ceremony. You always remember those. To close that out with a win, that was huge."
So many folks have been pointing toward this night since Pujols absolutely shocked the cork right out of the center of the baseball universe back in December, agreeing to a 10-year, $254 million deal with the Angels. Scioscia. Hunter. Weaver. Owner Arte Moreno. The rest of this merry band of Angels, their fans and, yes, the Rally Monkey -- who appeared on the scoreboard in the late innings in place of Kate Winslet seductively reclining on the couch in the Titanic scene in which Leonardo DiCaprio sketches her.
Expectations are off the charts.
The numbers, and impact, of Pujols' signing are staggering.
Since that December day when fans learned Pujols and Wilson were headed their way, the Angels have sold more than 5,000 season ticket seats, pushing them toward 25,000 sold for 2012. When the Angels put individual game tickets on sale March 3, they moved more than 30,000 on the first day. Partial season ticket sales are "trending" at 55 percent above last year.
Anything less than a World Series win absolutely will be a disappointment. And the beauty of opening day is: October is still far enough away to daydream on.
Pujols was showered with a loud, long ovation during pre-game introductions. But that wasn't the impressive thing. What was most noticeable was that Hunter, Weaver and even Mark Trumbo, who crossed the diamond to third base after Pujols' signing, were wrapped in ovations nearly as loud.
"It was awesome," Hunter said. "These fans are great. I love it here. Pujols is going to make his home here, and he'll see how much love they're going to give him.
"Once you're an Angel, they bring you into the family."
The emphatic reminder Friday was that these Angels have a variety of weapons. Weaver absolutely killed it on opening night, working eight shutout innings (despite two Trumbo errors) and striking out 10. He argued with Scioscia about going for the complete game but, once the Angels broke open a 0-0 game with a five-spot in the eighth, that wasn't happening.
"Scioscia put the kibosh on it," Weaver said. "It's all good. It was understandable."
The skipper said the plan, had the game stayed 0-0, was to allow Weaver to start the ninth with a short leash. But "he's got a lot of starts to go", Scioscia said, envisioning, no doubt, a path to October filled with many rugged nights, demons and Rangers.
The winning rally started not with Pujols, but with the bottom four in the Angels' lineup -- Kendrys Morales, Trumbo, Iannetta and Peter Bourjos. The win was fueled by Bourjos' and Erick Aybar's wheels, Weaver's dominance and, well, truth be told ... absolutely nothing from Pujols.
"I wanted to do something special," he said. "But that's the way it goes."
He'll have 161 more chances at special.
Even without that Friday, the Angels did something special just by writing his name on their lineup card and rolling it out onto the field.
"It looks good on paper," Weaver said. "Now we've got to go out and make it work. A lot of teams looked good on paper last year, and it didn't work out."