Pujols, Wells homer to lead Angels over White Sox
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) The Los Angeles Angels' new hitting coach was probably wondering what all the fuss was about during his first game in the dugout.
Albert Pujols welcomed Jim Eppard to town with a go-ahead three-run homer and Vernon Wells added a two-run shot off Gavin Floyd, leading the Angels to a 7-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday night.
Eppard was with the Angels for the first time, a day after Mickey Hatcher was fired by new general manager Jerry DiPoto 1 1/2 months into his 13th season on the job. The team's offensive struggles led to the firing, including Pujols' slow start after signing a 10-year, $240 million contract as a free agent.
"We were not in an offensive funk because of Mickey," manager Mike Scioscia said. "Mickey's a great teacher and a great hitting coach, and we've had a lot of continuity here. But we all respect what the general manager's office is about. Jerry's position is to try to make changes that he believes is going to help us become better, and we have to respect that."
During Hatcher's watch, the Angels set franchise records in 2009 for average, hits, home runs, runs scored, RBIs and average with runners in scoring position - and won a World Series title in 2002. But DiPoto felt the time was appropriate to make the change.
"I've thought long and hard about it for quite some time, for a variety of reasons," DiPoto said. "But these are not easy decisions to make. I think the world of Mickey Hatcher. I really do. I think he's a wonderful person and a hard worker.
"But sometimes I do believe you need a different voice, and this might be that time. I hope this is a spark. I don't have a crystal ball, but I believe over time that it should make a difference. Jim Eppard's been in the organization for almost 10 years and he's had a very good history in the minor leagues."
It will be an easy transition for Eppard, who nurtured current Angels Howie Kendrick, Kendrys Morales, Mark Trumbo, Erick Aybar, Peter Bourjos and Bobby Wilson as the hitting coach at Triple-A Salt Lake.
"What's great about it is that a lot of the guys here I've had come through Salt Lake, so I have a mental tape of those guys. And I've also had everybody else in spring training, so I'm pretty familiar with the group," Eppard said.
"I consider Mickey to be a good friend and as a mentor along the way. He was awesome. No ego. He allowed me in from day one. I was able to ask him questions, and it was a nice relationship. I feel bad for him, but at the end of the day, we all know that's baseball and these things happen. But I chatted with him last night and he was extremely happy for me, and he looked forward to meeting up and talking about it."
Jerome Williams (4-1) won his fourth straight decision, allowing two runs and 10 hits over eight innings with five strikeouts and no walks. The right-hander became the first pitcher in franchise history to win his first seven home starts with the club.
Floyd (3-4) surrendered seven runs and 10 hits in six innings, including both home runs. The right-hander had allowed just one homer in 40 2-3 innings over his previous six starts after giving up three in his season debut at Texas.
Trailing 2-1, the Angels grabbed a 4-2 lead with one swing by Pujols, who drove an 0-1 pitch over the center field fence after Mike Trout and Albert Callaspo opened the inning with singles.
"I just got a good pitch to hit. It feels good any time you hit a ball like that. It's been awhile," Pujols said. "There are some times I feel good at the plate and hit the ball hard but don't catch any breaks. But you can't lose your focus. Every at-bat, no matter how I feel, I try to take it as the last at-bat of my career. Hey, listen - this game is not easy. I've been saying that all year long. There are things that are out of your control."
It was the 447th career homer and second this season for Pujols, the three-time NL MVP who ended the longest regular-season drought of his career after 33 games and 139 at-bats in the finale of the Angels' previous homestand.
"I made mistakes in key situations when I needed to make better pitches," Floyd said. "They capitalize on those mistakes. Sometimes you get away with them. Albert is going to be producing like he usually does. He's one of the best hitters in the game. Everybody goes through a slump."
The Angels made it 7-2 in the sixth with Kendrick's sacrifice fly and Wells' sixth homer.
Notes: The White Sox were in mourning over the death of longtime pregame instructor Kevin Hickey, who died Wednesday at 56 in Chicago after a lengthy illness. He had been hospitalized since the day before the season opener in Arlington, Texas. ... With Hatcher's departure, the only coach left from Scioscia's original staff in 2000 is 1B coach Alfredo Griffin. Joe Maddon, Bud Black and Ron Roenicke all left to become managers.
Updated May 17, 2012