Shohei Otanihome runs often feel dramatic.
On Saturday night, Angels the star hit his 16th homer of the season, which left his bat at 118 mph and flew 462 feet into the right center stand in the third inning.
It wasn’t his hardest hit or longest home run, but it was more than enough to electrify the crowd at Angel Stadium after Seattle Mariners scored a run in the first. And more than enough to make the Mariners want starter Logan Gilbert to deliberately take him out a third time, a fifth, after Mike Trout doubled.
However, they pitched Otani in the ninth, with a tie on base after deliberately outflanking Trout, and this time Otani lined up right to end the game, the Angels’ second straight loss to Seattle. 5-3.
The Angels went one-on-five with runners in scoring position and were stuck at nine.
“We have to keep playing hard” – interim manager Phil Nevin said after the game. “We have to keep training here. There are guys.”
Otani got his solo shot off Gilbert’s 96.8 mph four-seam fastball, which he sent down the center for the slugger to crush him. Veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki joined the fun in the fourth round, hitting his second home run of the season, doubling the Angels’ tally. But the bullpen couldn’t hold onto the lead after Patrick Sandoval forced him out of the field after five innings due to high innings.
Sandoval gave up eight hits and two walks for just one run and struck out six. The Mariners counted Sandoval early – he had to work twice due to jams loaded with bases. By the time he finished he had thrown 95 pitches.
“Just a high score. This is a killer,” Sandoval said.
It took David McKinnon’s bat four games to make his mark on the scoreboard.
The 27-year-old rookie said he didn’t feel pressured to get his first major league hit, but the thought hasn’t left his head since he was drafted. Then it happened.
Wednesday night McKinnon, nicknamed Thor Jr. for his resemblance to pitcher Noah Sindergaard – received his first hit, driving in the process during the Angels’ 5-0 victory over the Kansas City Royals.
He hit again on Saturday against the Mariners when he was drafted as a hitter, driving once at sixth base and taking a berth at third base. He went in the ninth to bring a tied run to the plate.
“This is a dream come true; like the whole of last week was a dream come true,” the Angels rookie said after his first career hit.
Congratulatory texts rained down over the following days. By Friday, McKinnon was still trying to reply to everyone who extended their hand.
“Everyone who gets their first hit needs to be part of this really special thing,” Sindergaard said. “He’s just a really nice guy. … I think it’s cool to have a little brother on the team.”
McKinnon’s long travel history contains several reasons why his first hit might be a little more special.
McKinnon was not a highly publicized prospect. The Easton, Massachusetts native was selected by the Angels in 2017 in the 32nd round of the University of Hartford with a $3,000 draft bonus. If he had entered the draft three years later, when he was temporarily reduced to five rounds, and now only 20, he would not have come close.
Then, two years after he was drafted, he injured his knee badly enough to miss all but 18 games with the Inland Empire 66ers, the Angels’ Grade A team, in San Bernardino.
“[My wife Jordan] was the one who talked me out of that cliff, like, I’ll have a chance to come back and come back,” he explained his derailed year. This return has been further delayed after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the minor leagues for all of 2020.
Eventually it got better. He got his next chance last year with the two-time A Rocket City Trash Pandas and was promoted to the Triple A Salt Lake Bees this April. It was there that the Angels took notice, needing a player who could make a good contribution after losing Anthony Rendon this season.
McKinnon was hitting .327 with a .423 on-base percentage in 56 games when he was called up to The Show. In the six games he played, mostly from the bench, both Nevin and hitting coach Jeremy Reed said his hitters were lining up with the player they were expecting.
“To come here and do it at a major league level, maybe off the bench for someone who hasn’t done it too often, that’s even more impressive,” Nevin said ahead of Saturday’s game.
“Great guy in platter discipline, in command of the strike zone. He understands who he is,” Reid said. “He manages bats in a very short period of time and at major league level. When you are called for the first time, probably one of the most difficult things is to control the anxiety, control the heartbeat, control the situation and the environment.”
On the other side of the ball, McKinnon has mostly played first base as a pro, but the Angels’ greatest need for defense isn’t first. He knows that being on a major league team will require him to be flexible.
He had one game at second base last year as a junior and said he felt good at second base because “it’s the same side of the infield, so the ball comes off more similarly.” He also played third base and outfield in college.
“Whenever my name is called, I will continue to take reps wherever they want me to take reps,” McKinnon said.
The Angels gave him his first professional opportunity in third place on Saturday.