The 2017 Angels will not have the support of a raucous fan base behind them, nor the benefit of the doubt from an industry skeptical of their offseason improvements. They will not have an end-to-end closer or an established ace, or a bunch of prospects envied by the sport. But they do still have the best baseball player in the world.
On the first day of this incipient season, before a rare sold-out crowd at the Oakland Coliseum, that was not good enough. Mike Trout supplied the Angels' only offense, hitting for more total bases than the rest of his teammates combined, but it was insufficient in a 4-2 opening-night loss to the Oakland Athletics.
"The first game of the year, you want to do so well, you get so anxious," Trout said. "I just told myself the whole game to calm down."
To begin the season, singles-hitting extraordinaire Yunel Escobar ripped a fastball from Oakland starter Kendall Graveman into right field for a single. Kole Calhoun followed with a first-pitch single, but a hard, poorly placed grounder from Trout produced two outs and killed the rally.
Matt Joyce, a debacle in his one season as an Angel, led off the second by following a C.J. Cron pop fly into foul territory and sliding to secure it, nearly at the feet of Angels relievers. With Andrelton Simmons on first base and two outs in the inning, Danny Espinosa flared a ball into short right field.
A decade ago, before defensive shifting exploded, the same hit would have fallen in between two Athletics fielders and the Angels would have had runners on the corners. Instead, second baseman Jed Lowrie was standing precisely where the ball landed before the pitch was delivered, and the inning was over.
Stephen Vogt battled the Angels starter Ricky Nolasco to eight pitches in the second inning, whereupon he received a sinker at the bottom of the strike zone. He hammered it just past the out-of-town scoreboard for a home run.
In the Angels half of the third, Calhoun battled back from an 0-and-2 count to earn an eight-pitch walk. Trout next approached the plate. The fifth fastball he saw, with the count 2 and 2, was on the outside corner. He anticipated it and shot it out to left-center field for a two-run home run.
To begin the bottom of the fifth, Lowrie rapped a single to right field, took second on a Trevor Plouffe groundout and scored a soft single into center by Yonder Alonso. The score was tied and Nolasco then issued a walk to No. 9 hitter Marcus Semien.
Beginning a potentially troublesome third time through the order, Nolasco delivered one of his best pitches of the night, a curve on the outside corner at which Rajai Davis flailed at for strike three. Joyce flew out to right to end the inning.
No one warmed up in the Angels bullpen as the bottom of the sixth began. Khris Davis, he of the 42 home runs last year, slammed the first pitch he saw for a no-doubt home run, and Oakland was ahead. Only when Vogt followed with a single did pitching coach Charles Nagy visit the mound and an Angels reliever, Bud Norris, begin to warm up.
Left-hander Jose Alvarez soon joined him. He replaced Nolasco two batters later and induced an inning-ending flyout from Alonso. Manager Mike Scioscia asked Norris to pitch the seventh and J.C. Ramirez the eighth. Norris completed the task without issue; Ramirez gave up a home run to Khris Davis, a single, two walks, and a balk before escaping.
Right-hander Ryan Dull entered for the seventh. He fired slider after slider at the bottom third of the Angels lineup, and they repeatedly swung, missed, and struck out. Left-hander Sean Doolittle began the eighth, and got Escobar to pop up into the great expanse that is the foul territory here, behind first base. Alonso over-slid for it, though, and extended Escobar another chance.
The third baseman fouled off another ball, then watched a 96-mph fastball graze the inside edge of the zone for strike three and crouched in frustration. Up next, Calhoun popped out into the opposite area, behind third base. In came right-hander Ryan Madson to face Trout.
Trout hit a double down the right-field line. The Athletics then ordered an intentional walk of Albert Pujols to face Cron, who tapped out to shortstop, finishing the inning. In the ninth, Santiago Casilla worked around a walk of Simmons to finish the game.
For the fourth consecutive season, the Angels lost their opener. For the third time in those four years, Trout hit a home run.
"It's not a good feeling when you don't win," Trout said this time. "But we'll come get 'em tomorrow."