July 2, 2013; Anaheim, CA; Los Angeles Angels designated hitter Albert Pujols (5) meets with St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Allen Craig (21) before the game at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
David Leon Moore, USA TODAY Sports
The real story about the first game pitting superstar slugger Albert Pujols against his former St.Louis Cardinals on Tuesday night at Angel Stadium was not about renewed friendships or deep emotions or happy memories.
It was about the standings.
The Los Angeles Angels, with 33-year-old Pujols in offensive decline 11/2 seasons into a 10-year, $240million contract, are, despite a six-game winning streak, still four games under .500 and nine games behind the first-place Texas Rangers in the American League West.
The Cardinals, who witnessed and benefited from 11 amazing seasons by Pujols in St.Louis -- included were three Pujols MVP awards and two World Series titles -- before disappointingly losing their best player to the gargantuan bankroll of Angels owner Arte Moreno, are 49-32, the second-best record in baseball, two games behind their National League Central rival Pittsburgh Pirates.
There was a story in the hitting stats, too.
Pujols, who averaged .328 in his 11 seasons in St.Louis, is hitting .249.
Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, whom Pujols took under his wing in St.Louis and helped him learn how to act and work and hit like a professional, is leading the NL in hitting at .345, nearly a hundred points higher than his mentor.
Molina, 30, whom Pujols calls "my brother," was one of several Cardinals who visited Pujols at his home on an off day Monday. That typified the feelings Pujols and his old teammates, including Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, have for one another.
"Albert's a great human being," Molina said. "He's a great leader, a great teammate, a great person. No doubt he has helped me a lot."
Will it be emotional this week signaling signs to his pitchers that he hopes will get Pujols out?
"Yeah, it will be," Molina said. "He was my teammate, my brother, for many years. We're probably texting each other four or five times a week. At the same time, we're trying to win."
Tuesday was the first game of a three-game set between the clubs. During the series, the Angels will wear on their batting practice jerseys the same patch honoring Cardinals great Stan Musial that the Cardinals are wearing on their game jerseys all season.
The Angels are the first team to do that, and it came at the urging of Pujols, who idolized Musial, the Hall of Famer who died in January at age 92.
"Stan was my buddy," Pujols said. "When he walked into the clubhouse, it was like a light shined and everything stopped."
For Pujols, Tuesday didn't seem that emotional.
After all, it's been a year and a half since his somewhat surprising decision to leave St.Louis -- a process in which Pujols left the impression the Cardinals hadn't done enough to try to keep him.
But he answered news reporters' questions about that breakup calmly, if not quite fully, Tuesday.
"I really don't want to open those doors," he said. "That's two years ago. That's over. They've moved on. Arte Moreno made a big commitment to me to try to make things happen in Anaheim, and that's what I'm doing.
"I'm happy as an Angel. I don't want to change a thing. I'm happy I'm here. What I learned those 11 years there, I want to bring here."
Matheny was close to Pujols in St.Louis and said he still roots for him.
"It's a tough game," Matheny said of Pujols' struggles. "He's made a great career out of being pretty consistent and very, very mentally tough. Still, it's a tough game."
But, so far this year, not as tough for the team that lost Pujols as it is for the team that is paying him.