Shohei OhtaniHome runs often seem to have a flair for the dramatic.
On Saturday evening the angels star hit his 16th homer of the season, which left his bat at 118 mph and traveled 462 feet to the right-midfield stands in the third inning.
“We have to keep playing hard,” interim manager Phil Nevin said after the game. “We have to keep grinding here. The boys are.”
The team made a final attempt in the ninth, with David MacKinnon take a walk and Mike Forel reached base with balls after having to duck to avoid being hit on the head by a pitch, something he was clearly not happy about.
“If you can’t throw in, don’t throw in,” Trout said after the game. “And if you want to hit me, hit me on the ribs. Don’t hit me on the head.”
Ohtani stepped up to the plate hoping to change the Angels’ story, but his liner, though hitting at 104 mph, fell into Mariners rightfielder Taylor Trammel’s glove, ending the game.
Ohtani’s homer earlier in the game wasn’t his longest or heaviest, but it was more than enough to Angel Stadium crowd after the Mariners scored a run in the first.
And it convinced the Mariners to have a starter? Logan Gilbert walked him up intentionally his third time, in the fifth, after Trout doubled on a double. That inning ended when both stranded on base.
Ohtani got his solo shot from Gilbert’s 96.8-mph, four-seam fastball, which he sent down the center so the slugger could crush.
“Dude is insane,” Angels starter Patrick Sandoval said of Ohtani after the game.
Veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki joined in the fun in the fourth and hit his second homerun of the season to double the Angels’ score.
Sandoval gave up eight hits and two walks in five innings, but only one run and struckout six. The Mariners got the count from Sandoval early on — he had to work himself out of the jam-packed bases twice. By the time he finished, he had thrown 95 pitches.
“Just count high pitch. It’s a killer,” Sandoval said after the game.
It took David MacKinnon’s bat four games to establish itself on the scoreboard.
The 27-year-old rookie said he didn’t feel pressured to score his first major league goal, but the thought has stuck in his head since he was called up. Then it happened.
On Wednesday night, MacKinnon – nicknamed “Thor Jr.” due to his resemblance to pitcher Noah Syndergaard – got his first goal and scored a run in the Angels’ 5-0 win over the Kansas City Royals.
He struck again on Saturday against the Mariners when he was brought in as pinch-hitter, brought in a run on a single in the sixth and took over third base. He walked in the ninth to bring in the tying run.
“It’s a dream come true; like the whole of last week was a dream come true,” the Angels newcomer said after his first career hit.
Congratulations poured in over the next few days. On Friday, MacKinnon was still trying to respond to everyone who contacted.
“Anyone who gets their first hit, it’s very special to be a part of it,” Syndergaard said. “He’s just a really good guy. … I think it’s cool to have a little brother on the team.”
The long story of MacKinnon’s journey contains several reasons why his first hit might just be that little bit more special.
MacKinnon was not a highly regarded prospect. The Easton, Massachusetts native was drafted by the Angels in the 32nd round from the University of Hartford in 2017 with a $3,000 draft bonus. If he had gotten into the draft three years later, when it was temporarily shortened to five rounds – it’s only 20 rounds now – he wouldn’t have come close.
Two years after being called up, he injured a knee badly enough to miss all but 18 games with the Inland Empire 66ers, the Angels’ Class A team, in San Bernardino.
†[My wife Jordan] was the one who talked me off that cliff of, I’m going to have a chance to come back and make a comeback,” he explained of his off-track year. That return was further delayed after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the minor leagues for all of 2020.
It eventually got better. Last year he got his next shot at the double-A Rocket City Trash Pandas and was promoted to the triple-A Salt Lake Bees in April of this year. It was there that the Angels, who needed a player who could deliver a good hit after losing to Anthony Rendon for the season, noticed.
MacKinnon hit .327 with a .423 on-base percentage over 56 games when he was called up to The Show. In the six games he played, mostly off the bench, both Nevin and batter Jeremy Reed have said his at bats match the player they expected.
“To come forward here and do it at the big league level, off the bench for probably someone who hasn’t done that too often, is even more impressive,” Nevin said before Saturday’s game.
“Great plate discipline man, command the strike zone. He understands who he is,” Reed said. “He manages at bats in a very short time and at big league level. When you’re first summoned, it’s probably one of the hardest things to do: control your anxiety, control the heart rate, control the situation and the environment.”
On the other side of the ball, MacKinnon mostly played first base as a pro, but the Angels’ greatest need for defense isn’t early on. He knows that when he plays for the big league team, he has to be flexible.
He played one game last year at second base in the minors and said he feels good at second base because “it’s the same side of the infield, so the ball comes out more of the same.” He also played third base and in the outfield in college.
“When my name is called, I keep doing reps where they want me to do reps,” MacKinnon said.
The Angels gave him his first professional chance in third place on Saturday.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times†