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Times wires

ANAHEIM, Calif. - A dominating presence during his 11 seasons with the Cardinals, Albert Pujols was a fixture of October, leading them to the playoffs seven times, including three trips to the World Series, two of which they won.

But Pujols left for the Angels before the 2012 season, lured by a 10-year, $240 million contract, and quickly took on the look of a diminished star, eclipsed by teammate Mike Trout. His contract looked like a millstone rather than a totem of the Angels' revival as they slogged through two disappointing seasons.

Now, with the Angels beginning an American League Division Series against the Royals late Thursday, Pujols is returning to the big stage.

"It's great," Pujols, 34, said. "That's what you play for, to get to the postseason. Obviously, the last couple of years we had that dream, and we didn't accomplish that dream. But this year, obviously, a different team, different faces, a great ball club, and we have a pretty good chance to run this thing for a while."

The Angels had the best record in baseball (98-64) with a strong contribution from Pujols, who hit 28 home runs and drove in 105 runs, batting in his familiar third spot in the order, right behind Trout. No longer hobbled by an injured knee and heel as he was last season, when he played only 99 games, Pujols also regained his defensive form.