It started with a look and ended with a slide.
What should have been Shohei Ohtanis ‘first day off of the 2021 season gave way to his and his teams’ last dramatic moment, with the two-way star hit by a pitch and later scoring the go-ahead run in the eighth inning for the Angels 7 -6 win over the Houston Astros on Monday night.
After Ohtanis played his first two-way Major League game on Sunday night, hitting a homerun, throwing 4 2/3 innings and being involved in a scary looking home plate collision with the final manager, manager Joe Maddon wanted to give his star some rest. However, Ohtani told Maddon that he was feeling fine and ready to play in Mondays’ opening series against the Astros.
The two negotiated, Maddon said with a chuckle, and decided that Ohtani would not be the designated hitter, but would be available off the bench as a pinch hitter.
The Ohtanis moment came in the eighth inning.
Once trailing 4-0 and entering the bottom of the eighth with a 5-3 deficit, the Angels threatened on back-to-back singles by Albert Pujols and Jos Iglesias to open the inning. Ohtani came forward next and waited in the batter’s box when the Astros met reliever Joe Smith.
On the second pitch of the at bat, Smith plundered Ohtani with a shovel in the thigh. Ohtani was OK and the hit-by-pitch seemed unintentional, but Ohtani stared at Smith anyway, staring icily at the righthanded man as he dropped his bat and walked to first base.
Ohtanis is now called on the sign, said Mike Trout. I think that he [just] wanted to hit.
Instead, the inning continued. Dexter Fowler hit an RBI-single. David Fletcher drove in the tying run with a grounder to second. And Jared Walsh came to the record with a chance to put the Angels in the lead. Ohtani was on third base to represent the go-ahead run.
Walsh hit a hard ball on first base, where the Astros Yuli Gurriel made a dive stop before throwing home. With a feet-first slide in the same spot where he had fallen awkwardly the night before, before Ohtani scored when catcher Martn Maldonado missed the catch while going for the tag.
Ohtani got up, confirmed with the referee that he was safe, then trotted back to the dugout, a sea of smiling faces awaiting him for a night when the Angels improved to 4-1 for the first time since 2007.
We kept coming back, Maddon said postgame. You can increase and decrease the line-up today. So many good things have happened to different people.
Indeed, the success of the opening week of Angels followed a particular theme, one that spans more than just Ohtani’s main contributions.
They string together good bats. They get brisk forays from their bullpen. If they do fall behind, they stay close. And when they have to set up a rally, they do it in the most methodical way.
The eighth inning on Monday was the last example: nine at bats, three basehits, two run-scoring ground balls, one run-scoring sacrifice fly (by Anthony Rendon, two at bats after Ohtani scored) and no strikeouts.
I want us to keep this going. I want it to become part of the organizational structure as we move forward, Maddon said. It’s beautiful to watch, and it plays every day.
In all four Angels-victories, the final winning run was scored in the last two innings.
On Monday, the four-run eighth inning gave the Angels a two-run lead, giving reliever Mike Mayers a margin for an error in the ninth closer. Raisel Iglesias was unavailable after the previous day’s pitch when he gave up a homerun but still made the save.
Everyone has a piece of property now, that’s what you see, Maddon said.
Echoed Trout: It will cost us all. You saw that tonight.
It was Trout who kick-started Monday’s comeback. Through three and a half innings, the Angels trailed four and each basehit was denied by Astros-starter Luis Garcia. Then, triple MVP Trout led off the bottom of the fourth with a moonshot to the left for his first homerun of the season. Through five games, he has a 1,275 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
It’s getting closer, Trout said of his swing, which he’d tinkered with in the spring. I felt really good on the plate tonight.
The rest of the Angels attack also kept the line moving. They later hit a second run in the fourth with three basehits. They again scored in the fifth inning on two hits and a walk.
But they hadn’t quite come back, leaving the tying run twice in scoring position. Then, in the sixth, the Astros (4-1) extended their lead to two again when Maldonado was ruled safe on an action on the plate that went to video judgment.
However, the Angels stuck around, thanks in large part to their bullpen, which used five pitchers to combine 5 2/3 innings. After starter Jos Quintana gave up four runs in his first appearance with the team, rookie righthanded Chris Rodriguez contributed 2 2/3 innings in relief, gave up the Maldonado-run, but also struckout three. Veterans Alex Claudio, Steve Cishek and Tony Watson then joined two scoreless frames.
It put the Angels well within very close range when they came to bat in the eighth, paving the way for the team’s third comeback victory in the first five games of the season.
If you’ve done it and we’ve done it many times, it definitely creates that credibility that we can do it again, Maddon said. There is a trust factor. There is a knowing.
And it seemingly extends to every member of the team, even the one who would have Monday night off.
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