Rusty Angels fall short in late rally against Rangers
Shohei Ohtani crushed a Kohei Arihara changeup to deep center field in the fourth inning Monday night, the Angels slugger so sure he had homered off his former Nippon Ham Fighters teammate that he tossed his bat aside and broke into a trot.
Seconds later, some 400 feet away, Texas center fielder Adolis Garcia made a leaping catch of Ohtani’s drive at the top of the wall, the play emblematic of an Angels effort that fell just a bit short in a 6-4 loss to the Rangers before a crowd of 11,396 in Angel Stadium.
“Honestly, I felt like it was gonna be gone off the bat,” Ohtani said through an interpreter. “It was actually one of the better swings I’ve put on the ball this season. I feel like the wind kind of brought it back a little bit. I was happy with the approach; I just didn’t get the right results.”
That seemed to be the theme Monday night for the Angels, who were playing for the first time since Friday after two weekend games were postponed because of multiple positive COVID-19 tests in the Twins organization, a layoff manager Joe Maddon said “can almost be counterproductive” this early in the season.
The Angels looked rusty Monday night, committing three errors and a wild pitch, two of the fielding miscues fueling the Rangers’ five-run sixth-inning rally.
But the Angels also rallied for four runs in the seventh to cut a 6-0 deficit to 6-4 and brought the winning run to the plate when Luis Rengifo grounded out with runners on first and third to end the game.
“Yeah, we didn’t need those days, it was obvious in a sense,” Maddon said. “Their pitcher kept getting better, and we made a couple of mistakes, but we were there at end. We had the winning run at the plate … there was a lot of good stuff, but it just took a while to get the engine to start up.”
The Rangers broke open a 1-0 game with their sixth-inning outburst, doing most of their damage against Angels ace Dylan Bundy, and Arihara kept the Angels off-balance with his six-pitch mix, the 28-year-old right-hander giving up two hits in 5 2/3 scoreless innings with six strikeouts and two walks.
The Angels can point to several reasons for their hot start, beginning with Mike Trout’s dominance. What else has contributed?
But the Angels went to work against an injury ravaged Rangers bullpen in the seventh, Justin Upton jump-starting a four-run rally with a one-out solo homer to right off left-hander Brett Martin.
Jared Walsh doubled to right, and Albert Pujols greeted right-hander Kyle Cody with an RBI single to left. Jose Iglesias singled to left, and when Cody paid no attention to Pujols, one of the slowest men in baseball took off for third to start a double steal.
Pujols, 41, became the oldest player in Angels history to steal a base—he is 14 days older than Eddie Murray was when the Hall of Famer stole a base in 1997.
“Heady,” Maddon said, “he’s just ahead of the game at all times. He and Iggy made eye contact, knowing that the pitcher was slow [to the plate], plus he was not even checking him out. It was a great play, a veteran play, all those things.”
Kurt Suzuki’s RBI single to right made it 6-3, and Iglesias scored on a wild pitch to make it 6-4, but Rengifo struck out and David Fletcher flied out to center to end the inning.
Relievers Alex Claudio, Aaron Slegers and Tony Watson combined for 3 1/3 hitless innings to keep the deficit at two, and the Angels threatened in the ninth when Iglesias and Suzuki singled with two outs, putting runners on first and third against closer Ian Kennedy. But Rengifo grounded out to second to end the game.
“As a manager, when your team fights like that, down to the last drop, there’s not a whole lot to lament,” Maddon said. “The bullpen gave us a chance to win the game, and we kept plugging the way. J-Up’s homer turned the momentum.”
The Rangers took a 1-0 lead on Garcia’s solo homer in the third, and they appeared to break open the game in the sixth.
Joey Gallo led off with a walk, and Nate Lowe singled to left. Nick Solak singled sharply to right, forcing Gallo to stop at third, but when Walsh, the Angels right fielder, charged and dropped the ball, Gallo scored on the error for a 2-0 lead.
Willie Calhoun singled to left for another run, advancing Solak to third. Calhoun took second on the throw. Jose Trevino’s sacrifice fly made it 4-0, and Calhoun scored on Rengifo’s error at third for a 5-0 lead. Garcia took second on reliever Steve Cishek’s wild pitch and scored on Brock Holt’s single for a 6-0 lead.
The Angels put on an offensive show in a 10-3 win over the Minnesota Twins on Friday at Angel Stadium.
Arihara, a Japanese Pacific league teammate, good friend and catch partner of Ohtani from 2015-2017, gave up a leadoff single to Fletcher in the first and another single to Fletcher in the sixth and nothing in between.
Mixing a 91-mph fastball with an 82-mph slider, 83-mph split-fingered fastball, 87-mph cut-fastball, 83-mph changeup and 74-mph curve, Arihara struck out Mike Trout twice and allowed only one runner to reach second base. He got Ohtani to ground into a 3-6-3 double play in the first before giving up Ohtani’s long fly ball in the fourth.
“I was watching the ball thinking, ‘Don’t go out,’ ” Arihara said through an interpreter. “[Garcia] made a great play, so I was really happy.”
Arihara and Ohtani were teammates on the 2016 Nippon Ham team that won the Japan Series, Ohtani going 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA and Arihara 11-9 with a 2.94 ERA that season. His work done, Arihara will now watch from the first-base dugout as Ohtani returns to the mound Tuesday night.
Ohtani will make his first start since April 4, but the two-way star, relegated to hitting because of a blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand, will not be in the lineup.
With the Angels carrying an extra reliever and one less position player, they don’t want to risk losing their designated hitter if Ohtani’s blister flares up early.
“With the uncertainty, I’m not gonna hit him,” Maddon said, “just in case something went awry early, and we’d have to scramble the rest of the night with a short bench.”
Ohtani has thrown three bullpen sessions since his first start, all without a bandage on his finger, including a 30-pitch effort on Saturday. Maddon said the right-hander will be on a 75-pitch limit after throwing 92 pitches in his first start.
“I threw two bullpens and had no problems at all,” Ohtani said. “But it’s gonna be a different story once we get into real-game intensity. I will have to monitor it closely, but as of now I feel OK.”
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