It was almost impossible to see, especially with superstar Mike Trout's otherworldly numbers to open the season, but he had been scuffling a bit over his last three games.
With a strikeout in the first inning against Twins left-hander Lewis Thorpe on Friday, Trout had struck out in six of his last 10 plate appearances, including four times in Tuesday's loss to the Royals. But Trout -- like he seems to always do -- broke out of that mini-slump with a key two-run single in the sixth inning to give the Angels the lead in a 10-3 win over the Twins in the series opener at Angel Stadium. And after the Twins decided to pitch to him in that at-bat, they chose to intentionally walk him in the seventh after a 2-2 count, leading to a grand slam from Justin Upton with two outs.
"He is a grinder in spite of being this superstar baseball player," Angels manager Joe Maddon said. "He grinds all the time. He's focused and he's ready and wants to be there in those moments."
The Angels gave up three runs in the top of the sixth to lose an early lead but bounced back quickly against Twins reliever Randy Dobnak. David Fletcher dropped in one of his typical singles into shallow right and then Shohei Ohtani broke his bat with a single into center. With some aggressive baserunning paying off, Fletcher made it to third on the single and Ohtani smartly took second base, throwing his hands into the air after the play to signify his excitement.
It brought up Trout and Twins manager Rocco Baldelli elected not only to pitch to the three-time AL MVP but to also bring in the infield. Trout promptly made Minnesota pay with a two-run single that he ripped just past shortstop Jorge Polanco and into left field to give the Angels the lead.
“I felt pretty good about that moment,” Maddon said. "They put the three men on that side and he hit it between the two of them in that five-six hole. Listen, he's going to have a lot of those moments forthcoming."
Trout came up in another key spot in the seventh with runners at the corners and two out. Lefty Caleb Thielbar quickly got ahead with an 0-2 count but after Trout worked it to 2-2, the Twins decided to intentionally walk him to load the bases and get to Upton. It spectacularly backfired for Minnesota, as Upton absolutely obliterated a grand slam to left to put the game away in his return after missing two games with back spasms.
“You can understand what Rocco did,” Maddon said. “I’ve actually done it in the past, intentionally walking a runner with two strikes. But J-Up came through and felt really good before the game. He didn’t miss that one. That ball was properly clicked.”
By going 1-for-2 with two walks in the game, Trout, 29, is hitting an incredible .386/.526/.750 with four homers, four doubles and 10 RBIs in 13 games. It’s helped the Angels to an 8-5 start to the season that has them a half-game back of the Mariners for first place in the American League West. And, of course, it’s been more than just Trout, as Jared Walsh is off to a hot start and went 2-for-4 with a homer and three RBIs, while Fletcher, Ohtani and Upton all played key roles in Friday's win.
“I'm really looking forward to getting him and the whole group to the playoffs this year,” Maddon said. “So that guys can have the opportunity to play in these types of games. We've been playing a lot of these games. I think it's great to play against good competition. And Mikey came through again."