ANAHEIM, Calif. — The looming MLB trade deadline has sparked what feels like a never ending flame of rumors, debates and theories, especially when it comes to the future of the young two-way sensation, Shohei Ohtani.
With a 51-49 record and four games back from the No. 3 American League wild card spot, the Angels are proving that there’s a lot of fight in this team, and it’s that dedication and hunger that could be the key to clinching a playoff berth and keeping Ohtani in an Angels uniform for the rest of the season.
But as a gloomy sky cast shade across the stadium on Sunday afternoon, another possibility seemed to linger, unspoken among the home crowd: today could be Ohtani’s last game at Angel Stadium as the team will be on the road leading up to the Aug. 1 deadline.
However, much like the rumors and speculation, this thought had no place on the field as the Angels came together to channel their focus into achieving one goal — winning.
“I think we’re just trying to keep it tight in here and just focus on every day,” said Andrew Velazquez. “We’re all fans of baseball, and we’re aware of the standings and what other teams are doing. It’s on the TVs all day too, but we’re just trying to keep it tight and focus on what we have to do.”
After snapping their four-game win streak last night against the Pirates with a 3-0 loss, the Halos were on a mission to take the series today, and they hit the mark, defeating the Pirates, 7-5.
“I think we felt the same every day this year. We want to win every game, from the first one to the last one and every one in between,” said today’s starting pitcher, Tyler Anderson.
The victory marked the end of a nine game homestand where the Angels went 6-3, setting them up for a road trip to Detroit, Toronto and Atlanta this week.
“It’s more about the fight in the dog,” said Anderson. “All of our guys, everybody has got a lot of fight in them, and we’re trying to win every game and I think that that takes you a long way.”
Outside of last night’s loss, where the offense failed to score any runs with five hits and eight runners left on base, the Angels lineup has produced significantly more runs since returning from the All-Star break. In the series opener against the Pirates on Friday, they set a new franchise record, going 19 consecutive games having hit at least one home run.
“We had one big inning offensively, and that’s been a little bit of the MO for the last week or so that we’ve been playing well,” said Angels manager, Phil Nevin. “We responded well after last night.”
On Sunday, the Angels bats were back to producing as Ohtani launched his 36th home run on the season into center field, a line drive that went 410 feet with an exit velocity of 112.9 mph.
“I don’t know if I’ve seen a ball hit like that — a golf ball maybe. He’s hit a lot of impressive ones. I thought he lined out to center. I really did,” joked Nevin about Ohtani’s homer. “Every day, there’s something new that he impresses you with and certainly that was one.”
Also getting in on the home run fun, Velazquez, who has struggled at the plate with a .190 batting average over the past 15 games, hit his first home run of the season into right field. Leadoff hitter Luis Rengifo followed up immediately with his eighth home run of the season, setting the Halos up for a breakthrough fifth inning.
“Every single time I go to the box, I try to do my job and fight,” said Rengifo.
Mickey Moniak contributed with a single hit into center field, extending his active hitting streak to 14 games — the longest active hit streak in the majors. Taylor Ward has been heating up at the plate recently, and he helped the offense with a single to score Ohtani before Matt Thaiss polished off the Angels’ 6-1 lead with a sacrifice fly to score Moniak.
Before Saturday’s game, Nevin said that one of the exciting parts about seeing the offense pick up is watching the spark ignite the rest of the team. From the batters on deck to the players in the dugout and the pitchers in the bullpen, those moments have a way of weaving energy and excitement into everyone, explained Nevin.
“You get a couple guys rolling, some hits fall and it gets contagious. It’s really the same way with pitching. It’s funny how this game works,” said Nevin.
That excitement was certainly in the air in the sixth inning as Rengifo launched another home run, marking his first multi-HR game of the season.
The offense supported Anderson, who allowed four earned runs on eight hits with one walk and five strikeouts through six innings. Jacob Webb took over in the seventh, and he surrendered another run after fumbling a toss back to the mound from Thaiss, making it a 7-5 game.
“I felt alright. I think it was a good day to go out and have a good team win and finish a good strong homestand and then get on the road and try to get it done,” said Anderson.
All-Star Carlos Estévez capped the victory with his 23rd save of the season. The Angels are now 4 games back of the final wild card spot, which is currently occupied by the Toronto Blue Jays, who they are set to play this week on the road.
“It meant a lot knowing where we finished the first half,” said Estévez after the win. “We found a way to kick it back on and get going through this homestead. It’s nice for us that we started a nine game homestead at home right after the All-Star break and coming on top of it 6-3, we feel really good.”