LOS ANGELES -- Albert Pujols got the big hit. In fact, in many ways it was his biggest since joining the Angels. It came with the game tied and two outs in the top of the ninth, and it plated the winning run in the opener of the Freeway Series. So, naturally, after the Angels wrapped up a 3-2 win at Dodger Stadium on Monday night, the media flocked to Pujols to ask him about coming through.Then he quickly shifted the conversation elsewhere. "The player of the game," he said, "is [Mike] Trout." Yes, once again, it was Trout. Trout has been the spark that has turned the Angels' entire season around, and he was the reason they were in position to eventually win an ugly, four-hour game against their crosstown rivals, hitting a two-out solo homer, lacing a two-out RBI single and, in the ninth, drawing a walk and stealing a base to set the stage for Pujols.
At this point, it's tough to pinpoint games Trout hasn't put his imprint on."He just doesn't take anything for granted," Pujols said of the rookie outfielder. "He goes out there and plays hard every day -- dive for a ball, stealing a base, getting his walk, bunting. Everything you can ask for from a perfect player, he has it. He's just amazing." In large part because of Trout, the Angels are staring at this situation right now: Winners of four straight, owners of a Major League-best 15-4 record since May 22, four games above .500 for the first time all year and 2 1/2 games out of the Rangers in the American League West, representing their smallest deficit since April 12. Heading into the year, thriving over the Dodgers was to be expected. The Angels came in with all the hype and the Dodgers came in with all the uncertainty, but it was the Dodgers that dominated at the start and the Angels who underachieved. But the Angels are a different team now. By edging out a victory over the team that still sports baseball's best record -- giving them 10 wins over their last 13 games against the Dodgers -- they notched their 10th straight road win, representing the second-longest streak in club history. "This game was huge," Trout said. This game was ugly. It saw both starters, Richards and Chris Capuano, combine for nine walks on 13 hits in five-inning outings. It saw both teams get picked off on the basepaths. It saw both offenses combine to go 3-for-23 with runners in scoring position. It saw Richards' errant pickoff throw score a run from second. It saw runner interference rob Bobby Abreu of an RBI single. And it saw plenty of sloppy baseball throughout the night. But Trout's game continues to be easy on the eyes. It's not just the towering homer he hit in the fourth, which gave him six on the year and cut the Angels' deficit in half. It was the way he extended his arms on an 0-2, outside-corner fastball in the sixth, driving the ball to right field to tie the game. And the way he battled back from a 1-2 count in the ninth against Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, fouling off two pitches and taking two others for a walk, just before stealing his 15th base of the year to get in scoring position. "Mike in the batter's box is as advanced as any 20-year-old I've ever seen," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Through my whole Minor League career, I just always stayed confident with two strikes, just not trying to do too much," Trout added. "Sometimes it helps me because earlier in the count with no strikes, I sometimes get big [with the swing] and foul off some pitches. When I shorten up, it makes my swing quick." Trout's walk marked the 75th time he has been on base since his April 28 callup, the most in the AL in that span. He now has eight multi-hit games in 10 June contests, has hit safely in 14 of his last 15 games, was just named AL co-Player of the Week -- alongside teammate Torii Hunter -- and is hitting .354 in the Majors before he's even old enough to drink. "He looks like he's going to be special," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "It'll be something to watch for a while." With two outs and first base open, Mattingly decided to go after Pujols instead of walking him to face Mark Trumbo, who leads the team in OPS and homers. But Pujols has been equally hot, and he got just enough wood on Jansen's high, 3-1 cutter to drop a broken-bat RBI single into shallow left field. "It wasn't my best swing," Pujols said, "but it was good enough." Pujols finished 2-for-4 with a walk, giving him six straight multihit games. Over his last 19 games, he's hit .375 with six homers and 19 RBIs, raising his batting average from .211 to .260 in the process. Yes, he'll credit Trout for some of that, too. "I'm really excited that my next 10 years I'm going to hopefully spend it here with Trout, Trumbo and Peter [Bourjos]," Pujols said. "Those guys are going to keep me young."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.