Shohei Ohtani’s home runs often seem to have a flair for the dramatic.
On Saturday night, the Angels star hit his 16th homer of the season, which left his bat at 118 mph and traveled 462 feet into the right-center-field stands in the third inning.
The Angels went on to lose to the Seattle Mariners 5-3, despite putting up 10 hits. They went 1 for 5 with runners in scoring position and left nine runners on base.
“We gotta keep playing hard,” interim manager Phil Nevin said after the game. “We gotta keep grinding out here. The guys are.”
The team made a last ditch effort in the ninth, with David MacKinnon working a walk and Mike Trout reaching base on balls after he had to duck to avoid getting hit in the head by a pitch, something he very clearly was not happy about.
“If you can’t pitch inside, don’t pitch inside,” Trout said after the game. “And if you’re gonna hit me hit me in the ribs. Don’t hit me in the head.”
Ohtani stepped to the plate hoping to change the Angels’ narrative, but his liner, though hit at 104 mph, dropped into the glove of Mariners right fielder Taylor Trammel, ending the game.
Ohtani’s homer earlier in the game wasn’t his longest or hardest hit, but it was more than enough to electrify the Angel Stadium crowd after the Mariners scored a run in the first.
And it convinced the Mariners to have starter Logan Gilbert intentionally walk him his third time up, in the fifth, after Trout doubled. That inning ended with both of them getting stranded on base.
Ohtani got his solo shot off Gilbert’s 96.8-mph, four-seam fastball, which he sent down the middle for the slugger to crush.
“Dude’s insane,” Angels starter Patrick Sandoval said of Ohtani after the game.
Veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki joined in on the fun in the fourth, hitting his second home run of the season to double the Angels’ tally.
Sandoval gave up eight hits and two walks in five innings but just one run and struck out six. The Mariners got Sandoval’s count up early — he twice had to work himself out of bases loaded jams. By the time he was finished, he’d thrown 95 pitches.
“Just high pitch count. It’s a killer,” Sandoval said after the game.
It took four games for David MacKinnon’s bat to make itself known on the scoreboard.
The 27-year-old rookie said he had not felt pressured to get his first major-league hit, but the thought lingered in his head since he was called up. Then it happened.
On Wednesday night, MacKinnon — who’s been nicknamed “Thor Jr.” for his resemblance to pitcher Noah Syndergaard — got his first hit, driving in a run in the process during the Angels’ 5-0 win over the Kansas City Royals.
He struck again Saturday against the Mariners, when he was put in as a pinch-hitter, driving in a run on a single in the sixth and taking over at third base. He walked in the ninth to bring the tying run to the plate.
“It’s a dream come true; like the entire last week has been a dream come true,” the Angels newcomer said after his first career hit.
The congratulatory texts poured in through the following days. By Friday, MacKinnon still was trying to respond to everyone who reached out.
“Anybody getting their first hit, it’s a really special thing to be a part of,” Syndergaard said. “He’s just a really good dude. … I think it’s cool having a little brother on the team.”
The long story of MacKinnon’s journey contains several reasons why his first hit might just be a little more special.
MacKinnon was not a highly touted prospect. The Easton, Mass., native was drafted by the Angels in 2017 in the 32nd round out of the University of Hartford on a $3,000 draft bonus. If he’d entered the draft three years later, when it was temporarily shortened to five rounds — it is now only 20 rounds — he would not have come close.
Then two years after getting drafted, he injured a knee badly enough to miss all but 18 games with the Inland Empire 66ers, the Angels’ class-A team, in San Bernardino.
“[My wife Jordan] was the one who talked me off that cliff of like, I’ll get the chance to come back and make a comeback,” he explained of his derailed year. That return was further delayed after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the minor leagues for all of 2020.
It did eventually get better. He got his next chance last year with the double-A Rocket City Trash Pandas, getting promoted to the triple-A Salt Lake Bees in April this year. It was there that the Angels, in need of a player who could contribute a good bat after losing Anthony Rendon for the season, took notice.
MacKinnon was hitting .327 with a .423 on-base-percentage over 56 games when he got called up to The Show. In the six games he’s played, mostly off the bench, both Nevin and hitting coach Jeremy Reed have said his at-bats line up with the player they were expecting.
“To come up here and do it at the big league level, off the bench for probably somebody who has not done that too often, is even more impressive,” Nevin said before Saturday’s game.
“Great plate-discipline guy, commands the strike zone. He understands who he is,” Reed said. “He’s managing at-bats in a really short period of time and at the big league level. When you first get called up, it’s probably one of the toughest things to do is control anxiety, control the heartbeat, control the situation and the environment.”
On the other side of the ball, MacKinnon primarily has played first base as a pro, but the Angels’ biggest need on defense isn’t at first. He knows being with the big league team will require him to be flexible.
He had one game at second base in the minors last year and said he feels good at second because “it’s the same side of the infield so the ball comes off more similar.” He also played third base and in the outfield in college.
“Whenever my name gets called I’m gonna continue to take reps wherever they want me to take reps,” MacKinnon said.
The Angels gave him his first pro opportunity at third on Saturday.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.