For a team that has been so much about one player, the Angels keep winning as a group.
On Friday, they made it six victories in a row with key offensive contributions from everyone from a first-ballot Hall of Famer, Albert Pujols, to a pinch-hitter, Luis Valbuena. Five relievers strung together four more shutout innings and catcher Rene Rivera gunned down Whit Merrifield attempting to steal second for the final out.
“It’s a team win tonight,” starting pitcher Andrew Heaney said after a 5-4 triumph over Kansas City. “I put us in a hole early and they came back. Everybody did a great job.”
And that included, naturally, Shohei Ohtani, who has dominated the game and the headlines. This time, the rookie had two hits and scored the winning run.
What’s more, the legend of Ohtani and his immense popularity swelled again as the Angels apparently requested that a group of his fans at Kauffman Stadium quell its passion, for the good of the star and his team.
“I heard it,” Ohtani, through an interpreter, said of the vocal support he received. “I’m thankful for the cheer. But at the plate I try to focus and block out all the noise.”
A local reporter, citing security personnel, noted that someone evidently with the Angels contacted authorities to ask that the clamor be tempered.
“I was aware of that,” Ohtani said. “But I wasn’t the one who asked for it. I think they just did it so everyone could kind of focus at the plate. I was thankful for that.”
That ’79 group then lost four straight, something that seems unlikely for these Angels.
“These are professional hitters, guys who really make the opposite pitcher work,” said Pujols, who had a home run and three RBIs. “That’s what we’re doing. It’s a great lineup. We’re just having fun and playing great.”
Until Friday, the Angels also never had won eight of their first nine road games in any season.
The state of this current team’s surging offense was such that the guy with more hits than anyone in baseball was dropped lower in the lineup. Andrelton Simmons, with a .356 average, was placed in the eighth position as manager Mike Scioscia moved Ohtani up to seventh. In comparison, Kansas City’s No. 8 hitter Friday had a .158 average.
“I like Ohtani hitting anywhere,” Scioscia explained. “I like him in the batter’s box.”
They opened a 2-0 lead early but fell behind for the first time since Saturday (a string of 48 innings) when Heaney and some sloppy defense allowed the Royals to go up, 4-2, in the fourth.
The fourth run scored on a throwing error by Simmons, an error made possible when Heaney neglected to back up home.
“That could have cost us the game,” Heaney said. “That’s unacceptable on my part.”
But the Angels came back in the eighth. The rally began with singles by Zack Cozart and Ohtani.
That brought up Ian Kinsler, who was greeted with a 94-mph Justin Grimm fastball that narrowly missed Kinsler’s chin.
After taking two strikes to fall behind, Kinsler worked to a full count and then drove a 98-mph fastball deep enough for a sacrifice fly to score Ohtani, giving the Angels their 5-4 lead.
From there, it was sealed with defense, with Mike Trout making a diving grab in the eighth and Rivera ending it with his arm.