Mike Trout returned from his “whirlwind” of an All-Star break, the Angels center fielder’s two days in Cincinnati highlighted by winning All-Star game most-valuable-player honors for the second straight year and watching fellow New Jersey native Todd Frazier win the home run derby in his home stadium.
The 23-year-old star had such a blast he kept the party going Friday night, smacking a home run to left-center field with two outs in the ninth inning to lift the Angels to a 1-0 walk-off win over the Boston Red Sox at Angel Stadium.
“It’s been a crazy week, for sure,” Trout said after lining a 0-and-1 pitch from Boston closer Koji Uehara for his 27th homer of the season and third walk-off homer of his career. “It’s one of those weeks I’m definitely going to remember. It’s been fun. This is why we play the game, to have fun.”
The Angels weren’t having much fun until Trout’s game-winner, managing one hit through eight innings off left-hander Wade Miley, who threw seven innings, and reliever Junichi Tazawa, who threw the eighth.
But Trout, after taking a first-pitch fastball down the middle for strike one, tore into Uehara’s next fastball to give the Angels their eighth win in 10 games and tag Uehara with his third homer given up in 332/3 innings this season.
“I was just trying to keep my approach, control my emotions,” Trout said. “If I went up there trying to hit a home run, it probably wouldn’t happen. … To get no-hit through six innings and come out with a win is pretty impressive.”
Was Manager Mike Scioscia almost expecting a walk-off homer from Trout?
“You know Mike is dangerous any time — you make a good pitch on him, he still has a chance to hit it,” Scioscia said. “He’s just done it time in and time out. He got it done tonight. That was a huge hit. I don’t know if you can find any more accolades to talk about Mike Trout because he does so many things well.”
They tried this week in Cincinnati, where Trout cemented his title as “the face of baseball,” replacing Derek Jeter, by opening the All-Star game with a homer off Zack Greinke and beating out a potential double-play grounder in the fifth inning and scoring to key the American League’s victory.
“It’s definitely a humbling statement,” Trout said. “I go out and respect the game. I play as hard as I can — it doesn’t matter what the situation is — and I try to be a role model for kids.”
Trout, the 2014 AL MVP, drew more rave reviews for his hustle than his power, racing down the line to beat out what Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw thought for sure was a double-play grounder to second. Trout advanced to second and scored on Prince Fielder’s single to left to put the AL ahead for good.
“I hope young players look at that,” New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said. “Whether you’re in elementary school or high school, I hope you look at Mike Trout and say that’s the way you should play the game, because I want the next generation of ballplayers to all play as hard and as well as he does.”
Trout called it a “big play in the game,” but didn’t think he did anything special.
“For me, it’s just a ground ball — run it out hard,” Trout said. “Even if it wasn’t a double play, I’m still gonna run hard. I never take a play off.”
Said Scioscia: “The things we see Mike do every day showed up for a national audience. Besides the homer, he beats out a routine double-play ball and scores on a bullet to left when the left fielder is pinching. Even if he goes 0 for 4 with a walk, he does something to help you win.”
Despite a hectic two days in Cincinnati, Trout spent almost two days in his New Jersey home before flying to California, and he felt refreshed and rested Friday afternoon.
“I feel great; I’m ready for the second half,” Trout said before the game. “I’m fully healthy, 100%, no aches or pains. I’m young … at least, that’s what Albert [Pujols, the Angels’ 35-year-old slugger] always tells me.”
A few hours later, the Angels rode Trout’s youth and exuberance — and the lightning in his bat — past the Red Sox.
“I was just trying to get us off on the right foot in the second half,” Trout said. “It was a big win.”