Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun, seven innings apart, in very different situations at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday night, knew Dodgers third base coach Dino Ebel would wave the runner home. That was the spry and spunky Ebel the Angels outfielders remembered from their years with him, an aggressor always stepping on the pedal.
And the former Angels third base and bench coach knew the players’ capabilities. In his first year with the Dodgers after 14 on the Angels’ coaching staff, he understood they boasted strong, accurate arms. Calhoun always had one, and Ebel worked with Trout to bolster what was considered the weakest tool in his deep box when he rose to the majors to embark on a historic career.
The familiarity resulted in two game-changing plays in the Angels’ 5-4 victory. Both ended in the Angels’ favor, with the players tossing darts to nab runners at the plate in what proved to be the difference in the their third victory in three meetings between the clubs this season. The Dodgers (67-36) dropped to 40-13 at home. The Angels (53-49) will play for the season series sweep Wednesday.
“That was probably one of the best games, emotionally, with the crowd being in it all game, this year,” Trout said. “Big win for us. Just battling back and forth. It’s always fun playing the Dodgers. It’s always a battle.”
The first outfield assist developed in the second inning, which began with Max Muncy reaching on an error for the Dodgers. He advanced to second base on a groundout off A.J. Pollock’s bat. Corey Seager followed with a single to center field and Ebel gave Muncy the green, testing Trout’s arm. It was the wrong decision by an inch or so. Trout rifled a 261-foot, 98.6-mph throw home to just get Muncy and erase what would’ve been the Dodgers’ first run. The call was reviewed and the ruling was upheld.
“Unbelievable,” Calhoun said. “That pumped me up. I didn’t think he had a shot.”
It was Calhoun’s turn in the ninth inning. The Angels had turned to closer Hansel Robles, their seventh pitcher of the night, to secure the win. After retiring the leadoff hitter, he encountered a mess. Justin Turner worked a one-out walk before Bellinger smashed a line drive down the right-field line for a double to put runners on second and third base. With first base open, the Angels decided to pitch to Muncy. He lifted a sacrifice fly to left field to drive in Bellinger and trim the Angels’ lead to one.
Enrique Hernandez, pinch-hitting in the pitcher’s spot, followed and lined a ball to right field that bounced to Calhoun on a hop. Calhoun charged it, opting for the risky do-or-die play and fired a throw home. Bellinger was thrown out by several feet to end the game.
“Those two are on me,” Ebel said. “I know those guys. When they get the footwork together, they’re going to make a good throw. But they had to put it on the money and that’s what they did.”
Before the game, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was asked how Kenta Maeda, his starting pitcher, stacked up against the Angels’ lineup. The Angels, to Maeda’s advantage, had seven right-handed hitters in their lineup. Maeda entered the night limiting right-handed batters to the lowest batting average in the majors. There was just one problem.
“Obviously,” Roberts said, “you got the best player in the game sitting in the middle of that order.”
That player is Trout and despite valiant challenges for the title from several talented players in recent years, including the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger this season, he is unequivocally the game’s supreme performer. His unmatched skill set checks every box and his longevity at the pinnacle is nearing a decade. It was plain to see again Tuesday night, beginning with his work in center field and, later, his display at the plate.
With the game tied at one in the fifth inning, Trout whacked a slider 454 feet at 111 mph off Maeda for a solo home run, rendering the pitcher’s right-on-right strength moot. It was his 33rd home run this season and 11th in 12 games.
“He’s the most talented hitter on the planet,” Angels manager Brad Ausmus said. “No offense to Cody Bellinger, who is also very talented.”
Playing in a National League ballpark forces the Angels (53-49) to proceed without Shohei Ohtani, their second-best hitter, in the lineup. The two-way standout is limited to designated hitter duties this season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Without the DH, he can only contribute in pinch-hit spots. He capitalized on this Tuesday, coming off the bench to supply a two-out, RBI single in the second inning off Maeda. Last month, Ohtani homered off Maeda at Angel Stadium. The matchup between the two Japanese stars has tilted in Ohtani’s favor.
Ohtani’s line drive not only gave the Angels a 1-0 edge; it forced the laboring Maeda to labor some more. The right-hander emerged from the second frame having thrown 50 pitches. He exited after 95 pitches and two loud bangs. First, Trout smashed his home run. Justin Upton next crushed a 112-mph missile off the left-field wall for a double. Maeda’s arduous night culminated there.
Julio Urias relieved Maeda for his first appearance in six days and quickly surrendered a run-scoring double to Calhoun. Albert Pujols later recorded an RBI groundout to give the Angels a 4-1 lead. The Dodgers scored two runs in the sixth inning to slice the Angels’ lead to one. They threatened for more and failed thanks in part to Pujols atoning for an earlier error with a nifty play with the bases loaded, fielding a groundball behind first base and throwing home to get the inning’s second out. The Dodgers left the bases loaded.
The Angels quickly doubled the margin in the seventh when Calhoun smacked Yimi Garcia’s second pitch several rows deep into the right-field pavilion. Two innings later, Ebel sent Bellinger with the game on the line.
“I know Dino,” Roberts said. “There’s no one better. It’s easy to look back when a guy does get thrown out, but I trust his instincts.”