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God Only Knows What This Means For The Angels

Shohei Ohtani watches from the dugout
Duane Burleson/Getty Images

If it weren't for the technical difficulties that undermined both local TV broadcasts for the first chunk of the game, the eyes of the baseball world would have been fixed on the start of the Angels' series with the Tigers in Detroit. With the word on the street that the 51-49 Halos still weren't sure yet what they would do about Shohei Ohtani's expiring contract before the Aug. 1 trade deadline, these few otherwise unremarkable games stood poised to sway the outcome of the whole season. Every Tigers run, it seemed, would push Ohtani closer to a pennant quest in the desert or the east coast. Every Angels success, in turn, would make him likelier to stick around. Certainly, those who badly wanted their team to trade for the pitcher/slugger were rooting for Detroit to kick all of the Anaheim ass.

The Angels ended up with a win on Tuesday, but boy did they look just as cursed as ever. Ohtani had a bit of an underwhelming game by his imposing standards, going 0-for-3 with two walks, two runs, and two strikeouts. But the hitters around him picked up the slack—imagine that!—to build a 4-2 lead after five innings. In the ninth, with the score the same, they added some insurance runs off reliever Chasen Shreve via an RBI triple from Luis Rengifo and a Taylor Ward single sandwiching one of those Ohtani Ks. It was 6-2 at this point; everything seemed fine.

But if you know anything about the Angels, you know never to assume victory even when their players perform the most extraordinary feats. Carlos Estévez, a tricky and hot closer with an ERA under two, entered for the last three outs. He returned to the dugout after allowing four runs, none of them earned. Uh oh.

First Javy Baez, who normally couldn't get on base even if AAA got him a free vacation cruise to first, benefited from this wide throw by Rengifo to lead off the inning.

Estévez recovered with a strikeout—but then Nick Maton, who'd at least need a steep discount on that vacation package, lined a single just beyond the shortstop's head. Jake Rogers, who actually is an OK hitter for a catcher, scored Baez with a very similar knock to center. And after another strikeout, it came down to Detroit's most prized hitting prospects. Riley Greene came through with a laser into the right field corner. And then Spencer Torkelson skied what should have been the game-ending out all the way to the warning track in deep center. But Mickey Moniak, tasked with catching that ball, inexplicably played it like he was running up that old hill in Houston. He got all the way to the ball's landing spot, but his limbs failed him there. Moniak hit the ground at the same time as Tork's long, arcing automatic double, and the Tigers tied the game.

In extras, Moniak briefly redeemed himself with a double to plate the ghost runner, then messed up again when he got picked off at third. But that one run was all the Angels needed to escape. A groundout and two Ks sent away the Tigers without fanfare, and Ohtani's current team had their critical, uncomfortable victory.

One cannot possibly feel assured about the Angels' chances of competing in the playoffs after this messy affair. But as long as they keep winning, and that three-and-a-half game gap between them and the wild card doesn't get any larger, trading the most captivating player this franchise will ever know has to be out of the question. To even consider such an ugly, unsatisfying end to this blessing they've been given, these next few days would have to bring the Angels enough disappointment and humiliation to drive everyone around the team completely mad, to the point that continuing this charade of a playoff hunt would feel like the greater of two evils. They're the Angels. I like those odds.

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