All-Star-worthy La Stella hits inside-the-parker

Rengifo powers 3-run shot; Tovar steals a run with heady baserunning

June 26th, 2019

ANAHEIM -- Angels second baseman showed yet again why he’s an All-Star finalist at his position this year, as he smacked an inside-the-park homer to lead off the first inning against Reds right-hander Tyler Mahle that set the tone for a 5-1 win in the series opener on Tuesday.

La Stella, an All-Star finalist along with the Astros’ Jose Altuve and the Yankees’ DJ LeMahieu, helped back lefty 's strong effort, while rookie shortstop crushed a three-run homer in the second that proved to be the difference.

“I think his performance has spoken for itself,” Angels manager Brad Ausmus said. “He’s extremely deserving of being a starter for the American League. He’s a great teammate to boot. He has great power numbers.”

To start things off, La Stella belted a 3-1 fastball to deep center field that Nick Senzel tried to catch up against the wall, only to see it hit off his glove and roll to his left. By the time he got the ball into the infield, La Stella was on his way to easily scoring for his 16th homer of the year.

La Stella reached home in 16.35 seconds with a sprint speed of 27.1 feet per second, which is right around the Major League average of 27 feet per second. It was the first inside-the-park home run of La Stella’s five-year career and he said his last one likely came in Little League.

“I can’t remember the last time I had one of those, but it was pretty cool," La Stella said. "I don’t know if I’ll have another one, so I’ll enjoy it."

It was also the first by an Angels player since Peter Bourjos against the Twins on April 11, 2012, at Target Field. The last one hit at Angel Stadium was by Chone Figgins against the Rangers on Sept. 29, 2006. Additionally, it was just the fourth leadoff inside-the-park homer in Angels history, joining Jose Cardenal (Aug. 13, 1967, vs. Boston), Sandy Alomar (June 23, 1969, vs. Minnesota) and Luis Polonia (Aug. 9, 1991, vs. Oakland).

La Stella, 30, is in the midst of a breakout season offensively with his 16 homers and 44 RBIs. He entered the year with 10 homers and 94 RBIs in 396 career games with the Braves and Cubs from 2014-18.

He also helped Heaney with a strong defensive play in the first, making a diving stop on a grounder from Phillip Ervin with two on and two out. Eugenio Suarez tried to score from second on the play, but La Stella threw home to get him out in a rundown to end the inning.

“He’s been unbelievable for us there,” Heaney said. “That’s huge. Saves us a run. Gets me out of an inning.”

Rengifo stays hot

Rengifo, meanwhile, connected on his third career homer in the second, jumping on a 3-2 fastball from Mahle and depositing it an estimated 408 feet to right field. Rengifo has been swinging the bat better lately, hitting .345 with two homers and seven RBIs over his last eight games, but he could be optioned this week when Andrelton Simmons makes his return from the injured list.

"When he comes back, that's a good thing for me as well, because that's going to help the team,” Rengifo said through an interpreter. “I think any chance I get with this team will be something I'm excited for. I can handle any role they give me, and play hard. Always."

Tovar’s heads up dash

The Angels scored their final run in an unusual manner in the seventh, when Shohei Ohtani lifted a flyball to deep left field with one out and pinch-runner at second base after he tagged up from first on a deep fly ball from Mike Trout. Left fielder Jose Peraza thought it was the third out and Tovar smartly tagged up and scored all the way from second base.

“I saw that the outfielder had his head down after he caught it, so I sped up,” Tovar said through an interpreter. “From there, I kept going when I saw [third-base coach Mike] Gallego's signal and kept running.”

Heaney effectively wild

The five runs were enough for Heaney, who bounced back from his worst outing of the year to allow one run on five hits over 5 1/3 innings. His lone mistake came in the first, when he surrendered a homer to Joey Votto on a 2-1 sinker over the heart of the plate. His command was a bit off, walking four, but he was able to pitch out of a few jams with the help of two double plays.

“It was kind of a grinder,” Heaney said. “They put together some really good at-bats and got to me early. The 2-1 heater to Votto split the plate and he put a good swing on it. From there, tried to settle down and get softer contact.”