ANAHEIM -- Game recognized game early Monday afternoon at Angel Stadium, and the Mike Trout-Christian Yelich love wasn’t limited to their pregame chat by the batting cage.
Reigning National League MVP Yelich and two-time American League MVP Trout met on the field prior to the Angels' 5-2 win in the opener of a rare Interleague series between the Brewers and Angels, then put their skills on full display before the late-arriving fans had even settled into their seats.
After Yelich made a highlight reel catch in the second inning, Trout robbed him of what looked to Yelich like a home run in the third with a leaping catch at the left-center-field wall. Before descending into the Brewers’ dugout, Yelich doffed his helmet toward Trout in a show of respect.
The play loomed as a game-changer as the teams played a tight 3-2 game into the bottom of the eighth inning, when Justin Bour's two-run homer gave the Angels a bit more breathing room.
“Honestly, I thought it was a fly ball to center field, and it kind of kept going,” said Yelich. “I know how that is as an outfielder; when I saw him tracking, I was like, ‘Ah, this is probably not good.’ And it wasn’t good. But it was a great play.
“Tip your cap to him, and try to steal one from him later in the series.”
Trout said he thought the ball was at the very least going to hit off the top of the wall for what would’ve been Yelich’s sixth homer of the year, but that his work trying to rob home runs during batting practice paid off.
"It's all about timing getting back to the wall," Trout said. "In BP, you get them all the time. Obviously, I got to the wall at a good time."
The wall itself is part of the story at Angel Stadium. Its modest height, combined with a once-in-a-generation outfielder like Trout patrolling center field, makes home run robberies here more routine than some other parks. It was one of several home-run-robbing catches Trout has made in his career, including Prince Fielder and J.J. Hardy in 2012, Lonnie Chisenhall in '14, Miguel Montero and Logan Morrison in '15, Leonys Martin in '16 and Mike Napoli in '17.
"I hope it is routine,” first-year Angels manager Brad Ausmus said. “I saw him do it last year when I was here. If you put a very good athlete with a wall that's reachable, I'm sure we'll see a few more."
Said Brewers manager Craig Counsell: “I think baseball should consider putting fences at this height in every stadium. I think it’s fun for outfielders being able to do that. It’s an exciting play.”
It was just moments earlier that Yelich had shown off his own defensive prowess. With the Angels’ first two batters aboard in the second inning, Yelich covered 65 feet in 4.2 seconds to track down a Jonathan Lucroy line drive to the right-center-field gap, good for a four-star catch according to Statcast. Yelich fell to the grass but popped up in time to fire a throw to second base to double up Albert Pujols on the play.
Trout and Yelich are getting to know each other during what is just the Brewers’ third visit to Angel Stadium since shifting to the NL in 1998, and their first since 2010, the year before Trout’s big league debut. Yelich visited once with the Marlins in '14, but said he and Trout were only casual acquaintances.
"I don't know him that well, but I follow him because he's a young star in this game," Trout said. "He plays the game hard. I love the way he plays. He had an unbelievable season last year, and his whole career has been unbelievable. Knowing the start he's having this year, it's pretty incredible to keep it going."
Asked whether he was disappointed or thrilled that he doesn’t get to see Trout more often, Yelich laughed.
“You don’t want to play against him too much because he’s such a good player,” Yelich said. “It’s definitely fun. You always want to compete against the best. That’s what you signed up for. That’s why you play the game. But you definitely don’t want him taking it out on your team too much.”
Both entered the series off to MVP-caliber starts. Yelich, who attended some games at Angel Stadium as a kid, homered in the Brewers’ first four games to match a Major League record to start a season, then hit home run No. 5 and drove in three runs on Sunday to help clinch a series victory over the Cubs. Trout, meanwhile, saw his streak of homering in four straight games come to an end by going 0-for-2 with two walks that extended his on-base streak to all 11 games this season. Trout, who is hitting .367/.574/.933 on the year, fell one game shy of tying the Angels' club record of a homer in five straight games set by Bobby Bonds from Aug. 2-7, 1977.
“He didn't homer today so he had to do something,” said Angels right-hander Trevor Cahill with a laugh. “So he robbed a homer and that counts."
For the record, Counsell pointed to a third defensive gem as the play of the night. It was Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons' sparkling play up the middle to take away a hit from Lorenzo Cain to end the second inning.
“[The Angels’] two big defenders made two big plays,” said Counsell, “and kept at least two runs off the board for us.”
Chalk it up as part of Trout’s good start.
“He’s always off to a good start,” said Yelich.
“The easiest way to compare it is like what we have seen from Yelich in the last two months of [last season plus 2019]. That’s what Mike Trout has been doing for, like, five years,” said Counsell.
Asked about the adage "Don’t let Mike Trout beat you," Counsell said, “Yeah, I think it’s an easy statement to make. We are going to pitch to him. There are probably times that we aren’t going to pitch to him. It’s what every team says, and those guys still win MVPs. That’s why they win MVPs, because they are hard to get out. You have little margin for error to get them out.”
The Angels and Brewers square off again on Tuesday night, a 9:07 p.m. CT/7:07 p.m. PT first pitch, live on MLB.TV. Right-hander Matt Harvey (0-1, 9.00 ERA) gets the ball for the Angels coming off one of the worst starts of his career, as he allowed eight runs on 10 hits over four-plus innings in a loss to the Rangers. Freddy Peralta makes his second straight road start, coming off 11 strikeouts over eight scoreless innings of a 1-0 win over the Reds. Peralta was the first Milwaukee pitcher to work past the sixth inning this season.
Rhett Bollinger covers the Angels for MLB.com. He previously covered the Twins from 2011-18. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram and like him on Facebook.