Some years, it has taken him until the summer. The earliest he had ever done it was June 1.
It’s an arbitrary number, no doubt, but on a brisk spring night Wednesday at Angel Stadium, Mike Trout clobbered his 13th home run of 2017 in the Angels’ 12-8 slugfest win over the docile Chicago White Sox.
Because of a nagging hamstring strain, Trout has played only 37 games this season. If he maintains his current home-run pace for the rest of this season, he would smash 55 homers and obliterate his previous career high of 41.
Trout was unavailable to speak to reporters after the game. He hoped to catch a red-eye flight back east to spend the day at home in New Jersey. He has carried this team so far this season, but he did not need to Wednesday. The Angels collected 13 hits, worked six walks, and converted more than half of their scoring-position opportunities.
“We got into good counts, passed the baton, got some clutch hitting with runners in scoring position,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “And, obviously, Mike breaks up with a home run.”
Winners of four straight games, the Angels (22-21) will depart Thursday morning for the East Coast, where 10 games against sub-.500 teams await them, beginning Friday with the New York Mets. They won't play a team that currently possesses a better record than them until June 1.
Pitching, and the mechanics within a delivery, can be complicated. Matt Shoemaker, the 30-year-old Angels right-hander whose ascendance to the majors was once a major surprise, tries to simplify it. He seeks to do two things with each pitch: Throw it low and throw it with every bit of aggression he can summon. He believes the problems come when he fails to execute one of those facets.
But sometimes they don’t. Sometimes he throws his best pitch in the spot he sought and the batter still wallops it. Jose Abreu did that Wednesday night. Peeved he’d given up a two-out double after falling behind to the previous batter, Shoemaker worked the count to 1-and-2 against Abreu and then delivered a splitter a couple inches below the strike zone. Without expending much effort, Chicago’s best hitter reached down to golf it to the fake rocks beyond the center-field wall, 424 feet from home plate.
Shoemaker did not watch the ball depart the field. He dropped his head and lifted his glove, asking catcher Martin Maldonado to supply a new ball. Shoemaker kept his glove there for 10 seconds, while umpire Brian Gorman fetched a baseball from his pocket and handed it to the catcher.
Two more White Sox batters reached base before Shoemaker escaped. In the second inning, poor pitching was his undoing more than superlative hitting. He issued a walk and yielded two sharp singles to let two runs in. Thereafter, though, Shoemaker gave up only three hits, scattered across his five remaining innings.
“You might lose this game 4-1, 4-2, 4-3,” Scioscia said he told his pitcher early. “But you’re not going to lose this 9-8. You have to start getting into your game.”
Indeed, he turned a terrible start into a serviceable seven-inning effort.
Left-hander Jose Alvarez struggled in relief, forcing Scioscia to warm up closer Bud Norris behind him. It was rookie Keynan Middleton who wound up finishing the game.
The Angels unleashed their torrent of offense in the second inning, mostly predicated on White Sox starter Miguel Gonzalez’s wildness. He walked the first, fourth, sixth and seventh hitters he faced that inning, and yielded a triple to Ben Revere in between. With his 35th pitch of the inning, Gonzalez left a fastball up, and Albert Pujols lashed it to right field. That two-run single tied the score.
Pujols is 37, and scouts who see him regularly say he has lost little bat speed from his prime. Uniformly, though, they agree that he has lost significant foot speed. While he remains adept at stealing bases when opposing pitchers forget about him, he tends to be erased from the basepaths on hits because of his inability to assess that speed in real time.
He began Wednesday’s fifth inning by launching a baseball off of the center-field wall. Instead of settling for a single, he went for two, was thrown out by eight or 10 feet, and felt one of his hamstrings tighten. He later exited the game and was pronounced day-to-day. The night before, Pujols produced a similar result when trying to score from second on a single.
The Angels’ offensive run continued in the sixth and seventh innings with baserunner after baserunner. The last run scored on a Cameron Maybin double-play groundout. The inning before, Maybin got a 30-foot single on a ball that was determined to stay fair.
“That was the one I was waiting for,” said Maybin, who has raised his batting average 51 points in two games. “Good things happen when you put the ball in play.”
When he reached first base, Maybin could not stop laughing. In the dugout, his teammates raised their arms in disbelief. It was that kind of night.