AP Sports Writer
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) - Albert Pujols ripped a long drive down the left-field line, and the Los Angeles Angels rose in the dugout along with the crowd. The ball sliced through the heavy night air, soaring into the stands _ and hooking just a few feet foul outside the yellow pole.
The collective groan in Angel Stadium was audible from the dugout to the back of the bleachers Monday, and it's getting louder every night.
One month into a lavish contract with a new team, baseball's most feared slugger has lost his pop.
"I know I can hit home runs," Pujols said. "When it's going to happen, I don't know."
Pujols didn't hit a homer for the Angels in April, shockingly going 23 games and 92 at-bats without once doing what he did 445 times over 11 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals. Dating back to late last season, the three-time NL MVP and two-time World Series champion is in the longest longball drought of his career, going 29 games and 121 at-bats without a homer.
For a gifted power hitter in the ostensible prime of his career, it's a distressing stretch of futility even in the earliest stages of his 10-year contract. For the Angels, who are paying $240 million for homers and victories from arguably the best offensive player of his generation, it's a simmering problem that's threatening to boil.
"I don't think about that, man," Pujols said. "It could be tomorrow, maybe the next day, a month from now, I don't know. My job is to get myself ready to play and take my swing. ... Home runs, when they come, they come in bunches."
They're not coming at all in Anaheim, and that's not what the Angels expected after signing Pujols away from the Cardinals for the next decade with the third-richest contract in major league history. Even worse, Pujols' new teammates have slumped along with him, and last-place Los Angeles heads into May in an 8-15 funk despite Monday's 4-3 win over majors-worst Minnesota.
Not even matching the worst start in franchise history has caused the Angels to waver from publicly backing their new first baseman. They still expect to see the sublime power of the man who hit three homers in Game 3 of the World Series last fall, matching a feat only accomplished by Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson.
"Even though he's a leader and has been around, we've still got to lift him up, because the game will slap you in the face sometimes and humble you," said fellow veteran Torii Hunter, who shared Pujols' power drought until hitting three homers in the last four games.
Pujols has the highest batting average and slugging percentage of any active player, but he's hitting .217 with just four RBIs and eight extra-base hits _ all doubles, and just one in the last nine games.
Pujols deploys a frustrated smirk whenever he's asked about his homerless start, saying he has "been in this situation before." He insists he's "putting good swings on the ball," as evidenced by that 350-foot foul ball in the fifth inning Monday night.
"I know what I need to do, and I'm making my adjustment," Pujols said. "I've been doing it for 12 years, so I know my hitting. Only God knows my swing better than me. When you're going through things like this, you've got to be careful who you listen to, because you have so many hitting coaches."
His actual hitting coach, Mickey Hatcher, irked Pujols on Monday night after the slugger learned the coach had shared fairly innocuous details about a pregame team meeting.
"That stuff needs to be private," Pujols said. "He should have never told the media. What we talked about at the meeting, not disrespecting Mickey, but that stuff should stay behind closed doors."
If Pujols wants extra coaching, he could get it from fellow players, talk-radio callers, and even fans on the street in Anaheim and Los Angeles, where Pujols' arrival was heralded by a massive marketing campaign and a sharp spike in ticket sales for the already-popular Angels, who outdrew the Dodgers for the first time last season.
The solutions range from swing adjustments to pressure-relieving mind games to extra days off. Pujols downplays the difficulties of switching leagues and studying the innumerable idiosyncrasies of 13 new pitching staffs, but Hunter acknowledges it's tough for Pujols.
Even ex-players have theories on Pujols, including Jim Leyritz, the former Yankees and Angels catcher who now hosts an Internet radio show.