Tommy La Stella already has hit 15 outside-the-park home runs this season, which are five more than he hit in 396 games over his first five big-league seasons.
Perhaps bored with the leisurely trots that accompany such long balls, the Angels’ accidental slugger tried something new Tuesday, racing around the bases for his first inside-the-park homer to jump-start a 5-1 win over the Cincinnati Reds before an announced crowd of 37,260 in Angel Stadium.
“I can’t remember the last time I had one of those, but it was pretty cool,” said La Stella, one of three finalists to be the American League starting second baseman in the All-Star game. “I didn’t hit one in the minor leagues. I probably have to take it back to Little League.”
Luis Rengifo snapped a 1-1 tie with a three-run homer to right in the second inning, left-hander Andrew Heaney survived a rocky first inning to earn the win, and relievers Noe Ramirez, Ty Buttrey and Hansel Robles combined for 32/3 scoreless innings to push the Angels (40-40) to .500 for the seventh time this season.
La Stella led off the first with a drive to deep center. Reds outfielder Nick Senzel crashed into the wall as the ball hit the heel of his glove and caromed about 60 feet toward right-center. That gave La Stella, who is not especially fast, enough time to circle the bases and slide home without a play.
When did La Stella know he had the homer?
“I didn’t, honestly,” he said. “Probably when I was sliding home and no ball was coming. I definitely didn’t want to get tossed out at the plate. That would suck.”
It was the first inside-the-park home run by an Angel since Peter Bourjos on April 11, 2012 at Minnesota, and the first in Angel Stadium since Chone Figgins against Oakland on Sept. 29, 2006.
Rengifo, the rookie middle infielder, followed Albert Pujols’ second-inning single and David Fletcher’s walk with a 408-foot homer on a 95-mph, full-count fastball from Cincinnati starter Tyler Mahle for a 4-1 lead.
Rengifo is batting .245 with three homers and 17 RBIs in 41 games and making a strong case to remain with the Angels after shortstop Andrelton Simmons returns from a left-ankle sprain.
“He’s not hurting himself, that’s for sure,” Ausmus said. “He’s staying in the strike zone. He’s not chasing as much. He seems to be more comfortable in the big league environment.”
The Angels tacked on a run in the seventh when pinch-runner Wilfredo Tovar replaced La Stella at first, tagged and took second on Mike Trout’s fly to deep center, and alertly scored from second on Shohei Ohtani’s deep fly to left fielder Jose Peraza, who appeared to think it was the third out.
“I was running hard and noticed the outfielder put his head down after he caught it, so I sped up,” Tovar said through an interpreter. “From there, I saw [third-base coach Mike] Gallego wave me home, and I turned on the jets.”
Heaney gave up a solo homer to Joey Votto in the first, a walk to Eugenio Suarez and a two-out single to Jose Iglesias. Phillip Ervin shot a grounder toward the second-base hole. La Stella dived to his left to smother the ball, scrambled to his feet and fired home in time to catch Suarez, who was tagged out in a rundown.
“That’s what they always tell you as an infielder on a ball like that, try to knock it down, keep it in front of you,” Heaney said. “That’s huge. Saves us a run. Gets me out of an inning.”
Heaney allowed one run and five hits, struck out four and walked four. He was pulled after walking Suarez with one out in the sixth. Ramirez struck out Yasiel Puig, who was ejected by umpire Kerwin Danley for arguing strike calls.
Reds manager David Bell also was tossed after a heated exchange with Danley. A disgusted Puig tossed his bat and helmet in the home-plate circle before leaving the field.
Ramirez struck out two of three in the seventh to run his scoreless streak to 161/3 innings over his last 10 appearances, and Buttrey struck out two of three in the eighth. Robles gave up two hits in a scoreless ninth.