When he missed five consecutive games for the first time in his life, the best ballplayer on Earth required some time to find his swing again: eight at-bats. Then Mike Trout re-emerged, as good as ever, if not better.
After returning from a nagging hamstring strain Thursday, he homered Friday, Saturday and Sunday. On Monday night at Angel Stadium, the Angels advanced past the Chicago White Sox 5-3, pushed by capable pitching from unlikely sources and another Trout home run. The latest shot marked the first time in his career he had registered homers in four consecutive games.
"The first game, he didn't get a hit," said Kole Calhoun, who also homered Monday. "Now, he's back to being Mike Trout."
It helps to play the teams that aren't trying to win, but the wins count the same. Angels starter Jesse Chavez set down a thin White Sox lineup in order the first time he traversed it.
The second time, some trouble brewed.
Leadoff hitter Leury Garcia slapped a single into center field to begin the fourth inning, and Jose Abreu slammed a two-run homer to right-center. In the fifth, Chavez permitted another run on a single, a stolen base, and a two-out triple.
He worked around a sixth-inning single and retired the bottom of the White Sox order with ease in the seventh.
"Jesse, he finished strong," manager Mike Scioscia said despite an eight-pitch leadoff walk in the eighth inning that promptly forced his exit.
Through eight starts this season, the 33-year-old Chavez has registered a 3.75 earned-run average. He exclusively relieved in 2016, but he's now one-quarter through a full season of starting, and two starts from beginning to rack up financial incentives that could add $2.5 million to his income.
After his departure, left-hander Jose Alvarez retired the two hitters he faced before Scioscia called in closer Bud Norris for a four-out save, his eighth this season, and the eighth of his career. Monday marked his third consecutive day pitching, a task he had never before completed in the major leagues.
Faced with the extended absence of leadoff hitter Yunel Escobar because of a hamstring strain, Scioscia inserted Calhoun atop his lineup Monday and stuck Trout second. Albert Pujols returned to the lineup as the designated hitter after a day away from the team tending to a personal matter. Luis Valbuena manned third base and hit cleanup.
Against journeyman Mike Pelfrey, the Angels failed to generate a baserunner in three of their first four innings. But, in the second, they strung together a walk, a single and a productive out to present two runners in scoring position for Danny Espinosa. He popped out.
In the fifth, Cameron Maybin took a one-walk, and Espinosa did the same. After Martin Maldonado flied out, Calhoun took hold of a middling fastball and sent it into the right-field bleachers, 407 feet from home plate.
"Obviously, that's a huge momentum swing right there," Scioscia said.
The game was tied 3-3. It remained that way for four pitches, until Trout sent a 1-and-2 splitter 10 feet farther in the opposite direction, for the go-ahead home run into the Angels' bullpen.
Maldonado, the power-deprived Angels catcher, added a solo shot in the seventh. The three homers represented half of the Angels' hits; two of theirs came on ground balls by Andrelton Simmons. One was an infield single, the other a double down the third-base line. C.J. Cron added an eighth-inning double, after which he was stranded at second base.
The Angels (20-21) remain tied with Texas for second place in the American League West, eight games behind the pacers, the Houston Astros. No team owns a larger division lead.