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Shohei And The Angels Out-Dingered Aaron Judge And The Yankees

Shohei Ohtani #17 of the Los Angeles Angels hits a two-run home run against the New York Yankees during the fifth inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on August 29, 2022 in Anaheim, California.
Michael Owens/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of California may be a lost cause once again, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be fun sometimes. This is a team that still employs Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, after all. And with the slumping but still AL East-leading New York Yankees in town for a three-game series starting Monday night, the Angels could at least try to squeeze some joy out of playing the role of spoiler and beating a hated villain.

The Yankees are probably—but not definitely!—going to win the AL East, but the wins haven’t been coming easily of late; New York’s less lovable team just halted a blip of a win streak with two straight losses to the Oakland A’s, bringing their record in August all the way down to 9-16. So, perhaps it’s not that surprising that Monday night’s game was a close, homer-infested affair, and it’s definitely not surprising that both Ohtani and AL MVP favorite Aaron Judge had their say before the final result arrived.

The Angels trotted out 24-year-old Venezuelan lefty José Suarez, who delivered an above-average start by holding the Yankees to three hits in six innings and striking out six. Unfortunately for Suarez, one of those hits was a mammoth home run to Anthony Rizzo, which topped a solo blast by L.A.’s Luis Rengifo and gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead in the fourth inning.

They wouldn’t keep it for long. In the bottom half of the fourth, former Yankee Mike Ford ripped a first-pitch, one-out cutter into right field for the game’s third dinger, and a 2-2 score.

And then it was the Shohei Hour. After Trout blooped a two-out single in the bottom of the fifth, Ohtani stepped up and somehow cranked a two-out splitter low and away 400 feet into right-center to give the Angels their final tallies of the evening.

How in the world did he get to that close-to-perfect pitch with enough contact to send it in the crowd? Well, that’s a question to ask whenever anyone but Ohtani does it. The man loves to do the impossible, i.e. making thousands of people tune into Angels games when they are 56-73, so perhaps it would have been more surprising if he didn’t hit a home run there. This is doubly true when one considers that Ohtani for some reason loves hitting against Yankees pitcher Frankie Montas: After Monday’s homer, Ohtani has four against the right-hander, the most against any pitcher in baseball.

That blast gave the Angels a 4-2 lead that their beleaguered bullpen would maintain with ease until the top of the eighth. Following a first-inning groundout, the Angels stopped pitching to Judge for his next two at-bats, giving him two intentional walks, both times with a runner on second and first base open. Smart strategy against a hitter as devastating as Judge, who entered Monday’s game with 49 big flies. Come the eighth inning, though, Judge stepped up with one out and the bases empty, so Ryan Tepera decided to pitch to him.

You can see where this is going:

With that baseball’s trip to the center-field rocks, Judge notched two historic accolades. He became just the seventh player in MLB history to hit 50 home runs before the month of September, and the first since his teammate Giancarlo Stanton did it in 2017 for the Miami Marlins. Judge also became just the tenth hitter to hit 50 home runs twice in his career, joining Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle as the only ones to do it twice (or more) as members of the Yankees. The crowd, filled with Yankee fans, serenaded him with cheers that drowned out the hometown boos as he rounded the bases, and they’re not wrong to do it. As good as Ohtani has been once again in his role as a do-it-all Superman, this season feels like it belongs to Judge.

Except the Yankees keep losing. Judge’s teammates weren’t able to overcome Angels relievers Jose Quijada and Jimmy Herget in the top of the ninth, notching just a single as they went runless for the final score of 4-3. That’s yet another frustrating defeat for the Yankees, but New York still holds a seven-game lead on the Rays in the AL East and therefore will be sweating the implications of limping into the postseason more than any real chance of missing out on it.

As for the Angels … well, there’s always pride. This season has been a real experiment in figuring out new ways to lose, and all of that after an offseason that seemed to set the team up to finally contend for their first playoff appearance since 2014. Instead, they’ve been even worse than last year, hurt by injuries but also by their innate Angels-ness. There’s always next season, but at least the team gave its fans some fireworks on Monday to remind them that there’s something potentially like a baseball team plying its trade in Anaheim.

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