The opening salvo seared through the Orange County evening. Five minutes into Tuesday’s series opener between the Angels and Washington Nationals at Angel Stadium, Bryce Harper crushed an opposite-field homer over Mike Trout’s head. Thirteen minutes later, Trout announced his response by slamming one 40 feet farther.
“When it went over the fence,” Trout said, “I thought it was pretty funny.”
In its first, spirited inning, the series proved to be exactly what it had been hyped to be: Harper versus Trout, a young superstar showcase.
“It’s just fun when we’re both on the field,” Trout said. “You don’t get to see that often.”
For the next eight innings, Tuesday’s events resembled a more routine ballgame, played by 27 men, with the more talented team victorious. Washington won 4-3.
Even discounting Harper, who nearly hit for the cycle, Washington doubled the Angels’ hit total. Four Nationals logged multi-hit games, which no Angel managed.
In between power displays, the Angels’ Cameron Maybin suffered a right knee sprain while attempting to steal second base. On his way, he thought he heard contact. He looked up, detected no contact, and realized he had to slide. It was too late. His descent to the ground was uncomfortable, and he immediately called for a team trainer. After testing, he was helped off of the field, and the safe call on his attempted steal was reversed.
One hour later, the Angels pulled veteran outfielder Shane Robinson from their triple-A affiliate’s game. On Wednesday, he is expected to take over for Maybin, who will be put on the 10-day disabled list with a Grade 1 sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his knee.
“It was just an awkward play,” Maybin said. “Unfortunate, but I’m glad the results are as good as they could’ve been.”
After Trout’s blast, the Angels’ next hit came in the sixth inning, when starter Edwin Jackson (1-0) had retired 13 consecutive Angels. Martin Maldonado aimed a leadoff shot just inside the left-field foul pole for a go-ahead homer.
After Harper’s shot, starter Jesse Chavez scattered five singles over the next five innings and entered the seventh inning having thrown only 73 pitches. His 75th was a 90-mph fastball over the inside part of the plate. Anthony Rendon uppercut it beyond both bullpens for a score-tying shot.
Six pitches later, Adam Lind shot a single into right field and Scioscia came for Chavez. Blake Parker worked out of the inning.
Other Angels relievers faltered. In for the eighth inning, Cam Bedrosian surrendered a triple to Harper and a run-scoring single to Ryan Zimmerman. In the ninth inning, Lind pounded a hanging slider from rookie right-hander Keynan Middleton for the winning homer.
Washington sent in newly acquired right-hander Ryan Madson for the bottom of the eighth inning. Four years ago, the Angels brought in Madson and fellow Nationals reliever Joe Blanton to stabilize a shaky pitching staff. Madson never pitched and Blanton wasn’t effective.
Several teams later, both are back in Anaheim as Nationals, and Madson handled Tuesday’s eighth inning with ease.
Sean Doolittle, the other new National acquired from the Oakland Athletics, recorded a rocky save in the ninth inning, after a double and a walk meant Trout stepped to the plate with one out and runners on third base and second base. Although Trout’s on-base-plus-slugging percentage is roughly 500 points greater than Albert Pujols’, the next Angel due up, Nationals manager Dusty Baker elected to face Trout.
“Well, I’ve been beaten by Pujols more than I’ve been beaten by Trout,” Baker said. “Know what I mean?”
Trout swung at the first pitch and produced a run-scoring groundout. Pujols then flied out harmlessly to right.
Again, the Angels could not produce the necessary hit to win the game or send it to extra innings. Their offense has repeatedly come up short this season. Six hours earlier, Scioscia had spoken in certain terms about his dismay with his position players’ performance.
“This is not what we expected from our offense,” he said before Tuesday’s game. “We’re woefully shy on pressuring teams the way we need to.”