There’s no mistaking it. The Angels are Mike Trout’s team through and through. If that was ever up for debate, Los Angeles eliminated any shred of doubt this offseason by signing the two-time American League MVP to the equivalent of a lifetime contract. His 12-year, $426 million king’s ransom stands as the most lucrative deal, not just in the history of baseball, but in all of pro sports. There’s engaged, there’s married and whatever commitment level follows that is Trout’s relationship with Anaheim.
The Millville Meteor may be baseball royalty but the crown for MLB’s most interesting player belongs to someone else (unfortunately that title will always elude Trout, a certified bore whose idea of living dangerously is binging the Weather Channel). In a sport flush with colorful personalities and engrossing narratives, the story arc of Trout’s esteemed teammate, Shohei Ohtani, stands out as one of the most fascinating. A Paul Bunyan-like figure in his native Japan, Ohtani arrived in the majors with sky-high expectations and mostly exceeded them during his inaugural season, contributing a superb .285/.361/.564 batting line with 22 jacks, 61 RBI and 10 thefts while adding a Rookie of the Year plaque to his trophy case. Those considerable feats would be impressive enough on their own but in true overachieving fashion, Ohtani added to his mystique by also putting on a pitching clinic, delivering a 3.31 ERA in 10 overpowering turns through the Halos’ rotation before succumbing to a UCL tear in his throwing (right) elbow.
But as Ohtani would soon learn, even the brightest, most celebrated stars can fade in an instant. In the blunt, “what have you done for me lately?” world of Major League Baseball, the novelty of Ohtani’s dual skill set quickly wore off, particularly after it was announced he wouldn’t pitch in 2019 coming off Tommy John surgery. It didn’t help that Ohtani struggled out of the gate, limping to a lethargic .250 average through his first 100 at-bats. Stuck DHing for the lesser of L.A.’s two baseball franchises (per usual, the Dodgers are running away with the National League), it would be easy to forget, as many already have, that Ohtani is still an iconic talent with superstar potential. Thursday served as a needed reminder that even if he’s not tormenting hitters on the mound, Ohtani is still a force to be reckoned with.
It was a night of memorable firsts across the professional sports landscape. The Toronto Raptors, led by tight-lipped assassin Kawhi Leonard, claimed their first NBA title in nail-biting fashion, toppling the injury-ravaged Warriors in a thrilling, Game 6 victory. And some 3,000 miles away in the crumbling relic known as Tropicana Field, Ohtani also became the first of his kind, hitting for the cycle in a 5-3 Angels victory over the Rays. MLB has witnessed its fair share of cycles including one credited to Twins shortstop Jorge Polanco earlier this year, but no player of Japanese origin had ever achieved that mark until Ohtani etched his name in baseball lore with a Thursday for the ages.
The 24-year-old kept the suspense to a minimum, accomplishing the feat—the eighth cycle in the team’s 58-year history and the first by an Angel since Mike Trout did the trick in 2013—in relatively short order. Ohtani got his home run out of the way early, slugging a 414-foot missile to left-center for a three-run job in the first inning. After that, he doubled in the third, legged out a triple in the fifth, then completed a perfect 4-for-4 night in the seventh by plopping a two-out single to center field.
It may have taken longer than he hoped, but after a month of cobweb-dusting, it appears Ohtani has finally awoken from his early-season slumber. He’s been ruthless toward opposing pitchers over his last nine games, batting a convincing .438 (14-for-32) with five homers and 12 RBI during that explosive stretch. In doing so, the 6’4,” 210-pounder has boosted his season average from an underwhelming .225 to a much more respectable .281.
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Ohtani has managed to stay under the radar to this point, but that’s not likely to last, especially if he continues to homer at his current rate of once every 15.1 at-bats, a figure that compares favorably to other prolific sluggers such as Nolan Arenado (15.6), Freddie Freeman (14.8) and Khris Davis (14.6). The fact that his cycle came against the league’s top pitching staff in Tampa Bay (MLB-leading 2.95 ERA) lends further credence to the idea that Ohtani is indeed one of the league’s most ferocious hitters and an ideal partner in crime for perennial MVP candidate Mike Trout.
Not to be outdone, Ohtani’s aging teammate Albert Pujols proved he can still swat by unloading on Ryan Yarbrough in the fifth inning, belting his two-out offering into the left-field stands for a mammoth 427-foot homer. At this advanced stage in his sure-to-be Hall of Fame career, nearly every ball Pujols touches winds up in the history books. Thursday was no different for the 39-year-old, whose towering, two-run shot was his 200th as an Angel, making him just one of six players in league history to slug 200 homers for two different clubs. Pujols hasn’t sniffed an All-Star team in years and moves about as well as late-career Rob Gronkowski, but even nearing 40, the three-time MVP still offers plenty of pop, as his 12 homers and 37 RBI would both attest to.
Thursday’s game included, among other oddities, a 36-minute power outage reminiscent of the blackout that would come to define Super Bowl XLVII. In fact, at one point during Thursday’s chaos, the teams even contemplated suspending the game and trying again another day, which could have thrown a serious wrench in Ohtani’s pursuit of history. But the lights came back on and Ohtani’s Louisville slugger did the rest.
AL Quick Hits: Alex Gordon was a spectator Thursday against Detroit after injuring his back on a hit-by-pitch the previous night. Gordon had been hoping to suit up in his home state of Nebraska for Thursday’s game in Omaha, which the Royals won by a final count of 7-3. Nicky Lopez, a Creighton alum who played his college ball in Omaha, launched his first big-league homer in the victory. … Yoan Moncada wasn’t available for Thursday’s game against the Yankees but expects to return this weekend. The White Sox’s third baseman hasn’t been in the lineup since Monday on account of back tightness. … Another Yankee landed on the injured list Thursday with New York shutting down 1B/DH Kendrys Morales due to a left calf strain. Fortunately for the Bombers, Giancarlo Stanton (calf) and Aaron Judge (oblique) are both expected to appear in rehab games for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this weekend with manager Aaron Boone suggesting Stanton could be activated as early as Tuesday. … Tigers prospect Casey Mize was forced from his start Thursday at Double-A Erie with an apparent injury. Last year’s No. 1 overall pick looked out of sorts, clocking his final pitch at just 85 mph. Losing Mize, rated third in MLB.com’s current prospect rankings, to injury would be a costly and deflating blow to the rebuilding Tigers. … Jays rookie Cavan Biggio had himself a game Thursday night, belting two homers in a 12-3 rout of Baltimore. Even with Thursday’s heroics factored in, the son of Hall of Famer Craig Biggio is still hitting a meager .178 in 45 at-bats since his call-up last month. … Angels manager Brad Ausmus doesn’t expect Justin Upton to return this weekend but believes he could be back for the team’s upcoming series in Toronto, which begins Monday. Upton has been battling turf toe since spring training.
NL Quick Hits: Los Angeles placed Corey Seager on the injured list Thursday with a Grade 1-2 hamstring strain. Early estimates called for a 4-6 week absence but manager Dave Roberts admitted he’s not sure how long the Dodgers will be without their star shortstop. … Zack Greinke flirted with a no-hitter Thursday in D.C., eventually losing the bid on a seventh-inning base knock by Trea Turner. Afterwards, the D’Backs ace seemed relieved, reasoning that the no-hitter would have been “more of a hassle than anything”. … Mets manager Mickey Callaway gave a grim update on Jed Lowrie’s condition Thursday, admitting the veteran infielder isn’t close to seeing game action. Originally sidelined with a sprained knee suffered during spring training, Lowrie strained his hamstring on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Syracuse last month and hasn’t played since. At this rate, the 35-year-old may have to wait until after the All-Star break to make his Mets debut. … Nolan Arenado returned to action Thursday night after exiting the previous day’s game with a bruised forearm. The stud third baseman ultimately went 1-for-4 with a single and a walk in a 9-6 win over the Padres. … Here’s some whimsy to send us off on this fine Friday—Wilson Ramos learned his wife was pregnant with their third child when she held up a sign while the Mets catcher swung a bat in the on-deck circle Thursday against St. Louis. How’s that for a Father’s Day gift?