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August 31, 2012 at 11:30 PM

Angels made plays they had to while Mike Trout kept Mariners from doing the same

Yeah, it didn’t help that Kevin Millwood gave up that three-run homer to Kendrys Morales in the first inning. But the Mariners looked to be getting back into it against a shaky Dan Haren early on.
Then, it all went sideways on them, largely due to that speedy rookie named Mike Trout. He not only scored his 104th, 105th and 106th runs of the season tonight to set a new Angels rookie record, but did it at key moments in the contest to make a 3-1 game into a lead of 4-1, then 5-1 and then 6-1.
That’s the difference between a three-run first inning in which you try to hold on the rest of the way and an early start that you consistently build off of to make a comeback impossible.
Millwood, after all, has made his career out of limiting damage even on nights when he didn’t have his best stuff. That early deficit wasn’t impossible to overcome, but Trout helped make the normally-solid Seattle infield look like bumblers in the second inning, right about the time the Angels showed off some great defense of their own.
“He makes you conscious of him,” Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan said. “So, he’s got a presence. He’s got a presence at the plate, on the bases and in center field. He just changes things in three ways. Defensively, you’ve got to cheat in a bit. You’ve got to make the routine plays routinely.”
Ryan was involved directly in two of the plays that enabled Trout to score his team’s fourth run in the second inning. First, Trout reached base because his speed up the line forced Kyle Seager to rush his throw for an error.
Then, Trout took second ahead of an attempted Ryan shovel-flip to that bag on what was going to be an infield hit. Another infield hit, this one by Albert Pujols, then scored Trout all the way from second.
Ryan was going to try another shovel-flip to second in hopes of getting the third out of the inning, but the ball fell out of his glove. Still, the official scorer gave Pujols an RBI on the play because Trout never slowed as he rounded third base and would have scored even had Ryan set himself and tried for a throw home.
Trout also distinguished himself in center field once again, chasing down fly balls to both gaps and the warning track.
“He’s an impact player,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “I mean, what he does at home plate, what he does in center field and what he does on the basepaths, it’s game-changing. And we saw that again tonight.”

Wedge said he sent Millwood back out for the fifth inning at 97 pitches despite the fact he was clearly struggling. Wedge said this was to spare the bullpen a key extra inning of work, which I found interesting since Felix Hernandez pitches tomorrow and you usually don’t use the bullpen much in those games.
So, I asked Wedge about the expanded September rosters that can happen as of tomorrow and whether he’d given any thought to backing Millwood off for a bit and having another guy get called up to start in his place.
Wedge said it was more about sparing the bullpen.
“I want to see how he feels tomorrow,” Wedge said of Millwood. “He was better later than he was earlier. He just had trouble finding it early on there. As I’ve mentioned before, he’s a great competitor. We just didn’t have a good day as a ballclub. It was just one of those days.”
Millwood clearly didn’t have it tonight and admitted as much.
“I wasn’t very good from the first pitch,” Millwood said. “Nothing was really working. I wasn’t locating the ball. And it showed.”
I asked him whether he’d felt this way during ay prior struggles because he usually seems to find a way, as mentioned, to limit damage even when he isn’t throwing all that well.
“This is the first time I’ve felt this was as much of a struggle as it was,” he said. “They’ve got a very good team and I don’t want to take anything away from them. But there really wasn’t anything I was trying to do that I was able to do.”
Again, though, it was the Trout stuff that made the difference. Because if Trout doesn’t reach on the error and then get around the bases on two infield hits, maybe Millwood gets out of that second inning still down only 3-1 and everything changes.
Instead, he began the fourth inning down 4-1, walked Trout to lead it off and then had all kinds of trouble after that.
Millwood agreed that Trout being on the bases changes the way a defense plays.
“For me, I know I’ve got to be quicker to the plate to at least give the catcher a chance,” Millwood said. “And for fielders, on a ground ball they know they can’t take their time. They have to catch it and get rid of it quick and make a strong throw. So, he’s a threat in a lot of different ways.”
Reminds me a lot of Ichiro in his rookie season, with more home run power. That’s the type of stuff that helps rookies win the MVP, just like Ichiro did 11 years ago.
As for the Mariners, the good news is, this was just one game and they have Hernandez pitching tomorrow. These Angels are no slouches. They’ve won eight of their last 10 and know they have some ground to make up. Teams change throughout the course of any season and right now, the M’s appear to have caught this Angels club just as they’re starting to get really hot.

Comments | Topics: Brendan Ryan


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