Shohei Ohtani hits first grand slam as Angels rout Rays
Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash might have been wise to take a page out of Joe Maddon’s playbook and walk Shohei Ohtani intentionally with the bases loaded in the seventh inning Monday night, just like the Angels manager did with Texas Rangers slugger Corey Seager on April 16.
Instead, Cash could only watch helplessly as Ohtani crushed a grand slam to left-center field to cap a five-run outburst that propelled the Angels toward an 11-3 victory over the Rays before 19,537 in Angel Stadium.
Cash said he did not consider walking Ohtani because Anthony Rendon and Jared Walsh were hitting behind him. But if Maddon were in the other dugout, would he have issued a free pass to the reigning American League most valuable player?
“Uh, I have no idea, I really can’t tell you that,” Maddon said. “I would never say that … but you can understand why somebody would.”
Ohtani’s 413-foot shot on a 3-and-1 cut-fastball from reliever Calvin Faucher was his first-ever grand slam — in Japan or the major leagues. He also hit a solo shot to left-center in the sixth inning, giving him eight multihomer games in his big league career, 99 homers in his career and six homers on the season.
“Honestly, I didn’t know that was my first one,” Ohtani, speaking through an interpreter, said of his grand slam. “In my head, I thought I hit one in Japan, but I guess not.”
Faucher, a former UC Irvine pitcher, was making his major league debut.
The Rays had scored twice in the seventh to pull to within 6-3 of the Angels, but the Angels countered in the bottom of the inning.
Chad Wallach, the Yorba Linda native who was making his first start for the Angels, led off with a single to right, No. 9 batter Andrew Velazquez walked and Brandon Marsh reached on a bad-hop infield single.
Mike Trout walked with the bases loaded to force in a run, and Ohtani sent his 109.8-mph drive over the wall in left-center to break open the game, helping the AL West-leading Angels (20-11) move nine games over .500 for the first time since June 9, 2018.
Ohtani also smacked a score-tying, two-run double off the wall in left-center Sunday, part of a three-run, ninth-inning rally that lifted the Angels to a 5-4 walk-off win over the Washington Nationals.
The left-handed-hitting Ohtani entered Monday with a .235 average, .684 on-base percentage, four homers and 16 RBIs, with 31 strikeouts and 11 walks, and he’d been pulling off too many pitches.
But he made a conscious effort to drive the ball up the middle and to left-center over the past week, and the results have been tangible.
“For me, it’s just about left center, it’s about the ball going in the air that way and not trying to pull everything on the right side,” Maddon said. “The ball he hit off the wall [Sunday] was actually low and inside, and he was able to flip that out [to left-center] because he stayed inside it.
“Before, you’d get a lot of those rollover [grounders], maybe even a top-spinning lob to right field. So when he’s taking that pitch the other way, then you know he’s starting to smell it a little bit. … If we could keep him there for the next several months and combine that with what Trouty did, I mean, my goodness …”
Trout singled in the fourth, took second when Ohtani reached on a routine fly ball that dropped because Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier lost it in the twilight and scored on Walsh’s three-run homer off left-hander Jeffrey Springs for a 3-1 lead in the third.
Trout lined a two-run homer over the wall in the left-field corner for a two-run homer in the sixth, giving him a franchise-record 161 homers in Angel Stadium, one more than Tim Salmon.
The offensive outburst backed another strong start by Noah Syndergaard, who didn’t have his best stuff but limited a club that had won 13 of 18 games to one run and seven hits in 51/3 innings, striking out seven and walking one.
Syndergaard, who improved to 3-1 with a 2.45 ERA in five starts, escaped a second-and-third, no-out jam in the second when he struck out Randy Arozarena with a 93-mph sinker, Brett Phillips with a 75-mph curve and got Mike Zunino to ground out to first.
The Rays took a 1-0 lead in the fourth on Arozarena’s homer. Then Trout, Walsh and Ohtani broke out the wrecking ball, and the Angels were off to another win.
“Definitely, I’m having the most fun I’ve had playing here right now,” Ohtani said. “I’m not having the best offensive year right now, but the team is winning, and that’s the most important thing.”
Griffin Canning, on the 60-day injured list because of a stress reaction in his lower back, threw a two-inning, 30-pitch simulated game Monday.
He is on track to begin a minor league stint within two weeks and expects to be ready to return around June 6, the day he is eligible to be activated. … Taylor Ward’s right hamstring tightened up while running the bases Sunday, and the right fielder did not play Monday night.
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