'You always feel good when No. 27 is up there': Trout belts go-ahead 2-run HR

April 16th, 2024

ST. PETERSBURG -- Angels superstar loves hitting at Tropicana Field.

Trout entered Monday’s series opener against the Rays with the highest career OPS in the stadium’s history with a minimum of 100 plate appearances and came through in a big way yet again. Trout, batting second for the first time this year, crushed a go-ahead two-run blast in the eighth inning to give the Angels the lead in a 7-3 win over Tampa Bay. It came a day after he lamented not coming through in the ninth inning on Sunday against the Red Sox, but this time he delivered when it counted.

“I felt really good,” Trout said. “I think in Boston I was just a little off. Just off in the sense that one pitch I’d feel really good and then not. It’s just about recognizing pitches. That’s when I feel right.”

It was Trout’s seventh homer of the year, which is tied for the Major League lead with Atlanta’s Marcell Ozuna and Boston’s Tyler O’Neill. It came on a 2-1 curveball from right-hander Phil Maton, as Trout didn’t miss the hanging breaking ball. It left the bat at a whopping 111.6 mph and went a projected 420 feet down the left-field line. It was the second-fastest exit velocity on a go-ahead homer in the eighth inning or later this season, trailing only Cincinnati's Christian Encarnacion-Strand's walk-off homer on March 31, which was 113.3 mph.

It was also Trout's 10th career homer in 27 career games at Tropicana Field. He’s a career .320/.419/.690 hitter there and his 1.109 OPS ranks first ahead of former Cleveland slugger Travis Hafner’s career 1.076 OPS at the domed ballpark.

“It's just one of those things in baseball where it just didn't happen, he's an extremely good player for a reason,” said Rays right-hander Zach Eflin, who threw 6 1/3 scoreless frames. “But we get two more cracks at him. I don't even know what day of the week it is, but we get two more games against him. So we're gonna keep our heads high and show up tomorrow ready to go.”

Rays manager Kevin Cash was asked about Trout before the game and lamented about the inevitability of Trout coming through against his club. Trout went 6-for-12 with two homers and four RBIs in three games against the Rays last week, but Tampa Bay won two out of three.

"Keep the guys off base in front of him, I think, is what we learned last series,” Cash said. “That's easier said than done. He's good. He's going to get his hits. You just hope the damage comes when maybe there's nobody on base. But Mike Trout's too talented to really hold down."

Trout, a three-time AL MVP and 11-time All-Star, has played at an MVP-caliber level again this season after dealing with injuries in recent years, including being limited to 82 games last year because of a fractured left hamate suffered on a swing in early July. He went 2-for-5 and is batting .290/.362/.710 with seven homers, two doubles, a triple and 10 RBIs in 16 games.

“His presence is really important even when his performance isn’t there,” Angels manager Ron Washington said. “He’s a very present guy. Tonight we needed a big one at the right time and he came through and then it opened it up for everyone else.”

Trout’s homer backed left-hander Patrick Sandoval, who had trouble with his command at times but allowed one run over five innings. He loaded the bases with nobody out in the fifth but escaped surrendering just one run after inducing three straight grounders.

Sandoval credited the defense behind him for his outing and said it was exciting to see Trout and relievers Adam Cimber, Luis García, Matt Moore and Carlos Estévez play pivotal roles in the win after he departed.

“It’s awesome,” Sandoval said. “You can’t describe what it’s like. But when Mike is up there at-bat with runners in scoring position in crunch time, you always feel good when No. 27 is up there.”

Backup catcher Matt Thaiss also provided three insurance runs with a double in the eighth, as the Angels continued to rally after Trout’s homer. And Taylor Ward added a two-run blast in the ninth.

“We had a lot of opportunities and Matty and T both came through,” Trout said. “We’re giving ourselves opportunities and we need big hits when they come and we got them tonight. But I think if we keep giving ourselves chances, you can’t ask for more.”