Mike Trout stood respectfully during the national anthem Thursday but bobbed back and forth and turned his head side to side, as if antsy for the game to start.
And why not? The 22-year-old Trout, viewed by some as baseball's best player, was about to rejoin the Angels' lineup after missing nearly four games because of stiffness in his back.
Batting second as the Angels' designated hitter against the Houston Astros, Trout promptly banged a triple off the left-center-field wall in the first inning and scored the Angels' first run on Albert Pujols' sacrifice fly.
Trout later hit a double into left field in the fifth inning to drive in Erick Aybar and cut the Astros' lead to 4-3.
But Trout's bat proved not nearly enough as Houston used a four-run eighth inning to win, 8-5, at Minute Maid Park and take two of the three games against the Angels.
The Angels limped home having lost seven of the 10 games on their trip to Seattle, Oakland and Houston, including a three-game sweep at the hands of the Athletics.
The Angels are now 31-28 and tied with Seattle for second place in the American League West, 5 1/2 games behind Oakland.
But the Angels, while acknowledging frustration with the trip's results, said they were ready to bounce back.
"It's June, we're not really stressing about it," said Tyler Skaggs (4-4), who started three games on the trip and was the losing pitcher in all three, including Thursday night's game. "We all believe in here that we're playing great baseball.
"I think when we come home we're going to be a rejuvenated, new team and we're going to go out there and keep playing relaxed," Skaggs said.
The heart of the Angels' order struggled against Houston starter Brad Peacock (2-4), who gave up three runs in five innings, and the Astros' bullpen. While Pujols had the sacrifice fly, he went hitless as did Josh Hamilton and Howie Kendrick.
"We definitely didn't swing the bats to our capabilities and we didn't pitch the way we can" during the trip, Manager Mike Scioscia said.
"But this team's still going to get better as we move on and hopefully we'll pick it up tomorrow," he said.
Trout had an opportunity to inflict more damage against Houston in the ninth inning. With the score 8-5 and two runners on base, Trout represented the tying run. But he struck out against Astros closer Chad Qualls.
Pujols then popped out for the final out of the game.
Trout returned to the lineup after an MRI exam on Wednesday showed inflammation but no damage in his back.
Trout, Scioscia and the Angels' training staff jointly decided he would be the designated hitter Thursday night to avoid putting undue stress on his back.
"The MRI was huge, knowing that it wasn't too serious as long as I didn't re-strain it," Trout said before the game. And after the game, Trout said, "Feels good, no pain, nothing. I should be back in center [field] tomorrow."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times