Trout's latest star turn evokes legendary Hall of Famer
Huge game vs. Yanks from reigning AL MVP continues Mantle comparisons
ANAHEIM -- The Mickey Mantle comparisons persist and won't be going away any time soon. Mike Trout is the image of No. 7 in pinstripes, chiseled from the neck to the ankles, and he plays like the Yankees legend, crushing baseballs and running them down with blinding speed in center field.
There is one more link between Mantle and Trout. Each had the good fortune at an impressionable age to study at the feet of one of the best to play his position. For Mantle, it was Joe DiMaggio. For Trout, it was Torii Hunter.
In the afterglow of his brilliant performance in Monday night's 4-1 victory over the Yankees -- three superb catches saving at least three runs and a solo homer -- Trout referenced Hunter's ongoing influence in his development as a defender.
"He knows everything out there -- I learned so much from Torii," Trout said of the nine-time Gold Glove Award-winning outfielder who has returned this season to his baseball roots in Minnesota to drive the surprising Twins.
"I still think about things he taught me, like visualizing a play before it happens. Before at-bats, we're talking in the outfield about things to look for, what a hitter might do with a certain pitch. That's one of the things I learned from Torii, who was always talking out there.
"I still talk to Torii and shoot him a text now and then. He's always available."
Behind C.J. Wilson at Angel Stadium, Trout robbed Chris Young twice at the wall with men in scoring position, and he got a great break to flag down a Chase Headley drive in the right-center gap with another runner aboard.
"That's one of the benefits of being a pitcher on a team like this," said Wilson, whose vast vocabulary has been challenged in producing new Trout superlatives. "It gives you a lot of hope."
Angels manager Mike Scioscia has marveled at Trout since his first day in uniform as a teen straight out of Millville, N.J., in the spring of 2010, watching his defense catch up with his offense.
"He's as good as there is out there in center," Scioscia said, noting the trust Trout has gained in his ability to retreat on balls. This, along with the coaching expertise of Dino Ebel, enables him to position closer to the infield and steal singles as well as doubles, triples and home runs.
Trusting his eyes and experience, Scioscia is not a big fan of all the defensive analytics, especially as they pertain to Trout. The unanimous 2014 American League Most Valuable Player Award winner generally rates in the middle of the pack -- 15th in the Majors currently at his position, according to the calculations of Fangraphs.com.
Unlike some center fielders, Trout is not greedy. Deferring to his corner guys, he doesn't run down everything he can reach in the gaps. This does not help Trout's range-factor numbers, but it keeps his teammates involved -- and the communication never stops.
"We take a lot of pride in our defense," Trout said. "It's all about the team and doing everything you can to win games -- offensively, defensively, running the bases."
In Trout's case, it can be all of the above. He stole his ninth base to go with his 20th homer, joining Mantle, Ted Williams, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr. and Tony Conigliaro as the only AL players with four 20-homer seasons before their age-24 season.
"I'm not really aware of those things," Trout said.
On this occasion, all the talk was focused on his glove, a decisive factor in pushing the Angels to 40-37 and keeping them four behind the Astros in the AL West.
Young -- playing left for the Yankees on Monday night, but a quality center fielder for most of his career -- admittedly thought he had RBI extra-base hits in the third and fifth innings.
"Then," he said, "you remember Trout is out there. You execute, do what you're trying to do at the plate, but it's a crazy game we play. Things like that happen."
Yankees center fielder Brett Gardner had two doubles and a single but didn't score -- thanks to Trout's thievery.
"He's a difference-maker out there, it seems like every night," said Gardner, who has 23 hits in his past 10 games. "He made some great plays out there [and] obviously swings the bat really well."
What we sometimes forget is that Trout, for all his wondrous deeds, is five weeks removed from his 24th birthday. He remains a work in progress, committed to getting better. Trout doesn't coast, taking ground balls in the outfield during batting practice and showing up early to correct his swing after a troubling offensive night.
Trout has listened closely to those who preceded him and shared their secrets.
"I've been lucky," Trout said, "to play with great ones like Albert [Pujols] and Torii -- guys who play the game the right way and are always there for you."