There are moments in life that you remember where you were when they happened. Whether it is finding out some good news, bad news, a birth, a death, or the moment where you first laid eyes on her, some sequences immediately spark the brain’s ability to hold every precious detail hostage forever. I don’t know if this article is about one of those moments for you. I do know that, at least for me, this moment has embedded itself within me for the entire following forty-eight hours.
I was sitting with my elbows on the bar top of the Lazy Dog Bar and Grill in Westminster, recovering from an incredible, double overtime thrilling Game 2 between our beloved /hated Kings and the New York Rangers. I was scarfing down yet another order of chicken strips, while guzzling down my fourth iced tea. I had on a blue, plaid flannel shirt and had my 1971-1972 old Angels cap on backwards. There was a glass of red wine in a white haired lady’s hand to my right, and a twenty two ounce beer glass in the portly gentleman grasp to my left. I looked up to the bar television monitor
And then The Erick Aybar Double happened.
And then The Chris Iannetta RBI Single happened.
And then The Collin Cowgill Ground Ball that Won’t Come Out of the Glove of Alexei Ramirez happened.
And then the Howie Kendrick Incredible At Bat Single to Right Field happened
And then it happened.
The Mike Trout Grand Slam happened.
Maybe it was the fact that it was a Chris Sale versus Mike Trout matchup that made it personally unforgettable. Maybe it was the fact that I was built up not just to be let down that made this moment instantly permanent. Maybe it was the fact that this was the first time I didn’t feel as if I could trust Mike Trout that made a homerun in a June game against a bad, non-divisional team memorable.
As a low-level, terrible, and unfunny baseball analyst, the search for truth and the answer to the question “why” is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for me. Yet, not here. I don’t really care to understand why this moment has stuck with me. I just want to relive it as often as I can.
And I don’t want to search for why all the crazy, extraordinarily unlikely things that happened in the eighth inning on Saturday night happened. I just want to point them out and acknowledge how many things had to go right for this inning to unfold the way it did.
So, here we go. We’ll start at the beginning.
Prelude to the 8th: Chris Sale was being Chris Sale. He was dominating. To this point, Sale had surrendered four baserunners in seven innings while striking out six. He was overpowering hitters with his mid-nineties-from-the-left-side-baseball-porn of a fastball and then just straight teasing them with the slider/changeup torturous combination. This was the least unlikely thing that happened all day. Everybody knew the Angels would probably struggle against a top-flight pitcher. And, until the eighth inning, they did. This is where things start to get a little weird.
The Bottom of the Eighth Inning on June 7th, 2014
Since the beginning of the 2013 season, Chris Sale has been disgustingly effective. In 2013, Sale had allowed the 16th lowest slugging percentage and 26th lowest isolated power of any pitcher in the major leagues. He’s followed that up in 2014 by being EVEN BETTER. In 2014, Sale has the 2nd best opponents ISO and lowest opponents SLG% among any pitcher with at least as many innings pitched as Sale. The part that makes him disgusting is that he pitches half his games in the extreme hitter’s park US Cellular Field. He’s basically just been surrendering singles. He’s good.
The first batter up in the 8th inning was the weak hitting Erick Aybar. I do not say weak hitting in jest. Since Aybar’s debut in 2006, he has the twelfth lowest ISO (.111) and SLG (.389) in the majors. Good thing guys like Juan Pierre exist, or else Aybar might hold the crown as the league’s weakest hitter for nearly a decade straight. Erick Aybar slugs Mike Trout’s on base percentage. It’s incredible.
So, an extra base hit limiting machine in Chris Sale goes up against Aybar, who’s allergic to extra base hits and the obvious outcome happens:
Erick Aybar doubles to left field.
Wait, what? Aybar? Double? Against Sale? Well, this is weird. Oh well, a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while anyway.
The next batter up to face Sale is the ever patient Chris Iannetta. Iannetta routinely is one of the top two players on the club in walks, pitches seen, pitches per at bat and--
Chris Iannetta singles up the middle
That was unexpected. One of the most patient hitters swings at the first pitch and hits a seeing eyed single up the middle to score Aybar and get the Angels on the board. What makes this even more out of the ordinary? Iannetta is sporting a career low 29% ground ball rate this year meaning that 71% of the balls Iannetta hits are in the air. He hit a ground ball, which is, basically, the only thing he could have done to have this inning play out the way it did.
Next up, is Collin Cowgill. Speaking of Iannetta’s patient approach, Cowgill has been even more patient this ye—
Collin Cowgill hits a groundball to shortstop Alexei Ramirez
Dammit! Not again! Every time I try to write a well-researched, well-thought out intro to a patient hitter, they go and swing at the first pitch. Cowgill RARELY swings at the first pitch. In fact, about 8 times out of ten, he’s going to watch that first pitch float by. For whatever reason, though, not in this at bat as Cowgill takes a hack at a first pitch changeup and sends it to what looks to be its sure doom.
Alexei Ramirez is really good as well; this year, especially, because he’s been hitting at a crazy awesome clip. Usually, Ramirez’ value is mostly a derived from his nearly incomparable glove. Since 2008, only two shortstops have had more Defensive Runs Saved than Alexei Ramirez’ 48 (Andrelton Simmons and Troy Tulowitzki). Yet, in this play, Ramirez makes a great play by sliding on a knee to get to the ball, but can’t get the ball out of his glove. Could Ramirez and Beckham have turned a double play? With Cowgill’s all-out style and natural speed, maybe not. They definitely could have, at the very least, gotten the force out of Iannetta at second base. Like I said, strange things happened.
Howie Kendrick came to bat next, and his at bat was incredible.
Firstly, Sale throws a strike bringing the count to 0-1. Kendrick, after an 0-1 count, is a .266/.290/.374 hitter. Kendrick, knowing he has tremendous success when he swings at the 0-1 pitch (.345/.353/.499), takes a hack at the 86mph changeup and fouls it off. Uh oh. Kendrick’s OPS after an 0-2 count, as usually the case with all batters, plummets nearly 150 points. Given Kendrick’s decent propensity to strike out, Angel fans were rightfully pessimistic about this at bat.
Sale throws another changeup, out of the zone and away which Kendrick, once again, fouls off to the right. Sale comes back with a fastball, this time inside, with the same result; a Kendrick foul ball. Five pitches, two strikes, three foul balls.
Sale comes back inside with a 94mph fastball that nearly hits Kendrick in the jersey. The first slider Sale throws draws a check swing from Kendrick, which is appealed and ruled safe. Sale still have a heavy advantage given Howie’s .219/.278/.293 line after a 2-2 count.
Another foul ball to the right side follows and one is able to visibly see Sale’s frustration at his inability to put Kendrick away. The next pitch is another check swing, which, if you view the Angels’ broadcast, Mark Gubizca calls it a “great job” to be able to hold up. Switching to the Chicago broadcast, you hear a slightly different story. Either way, the check swing was a borderline call.
Nevertheless, Kendrick gets back into a comfortable, full count. Being a .280/.442/.436 hitter in full counts in his career, Kendrick has a sound approach in these situations. So far, Sale has toyed him with his changeup outside, and then come back with the heat inside. Kendrick has seen eight pitches, and fouled off four pitches.
Howie Kendrick singles to right field
The 3-2 pitch is a soft changeup on the outside part of the plate which Howie shoots through the hole between Abreu and Beckham. Because of the Ramirez error, Beckham had to play at double play depth, which allowed for that ball to find a way into right field.
Mike Trout steps up with the bases loaded. No better words to hear for an Angel fan. As I admitted earlier, my confidence has waned slightly in Trout this year, as he’s shown a more human side to his contact skills. Had the situation dictated the Angels needing only one run, Trout probably wouldn’t have been the ideal hitter. Given the fact the Angels needed multiple runs to even tie the game; the best hitter for the moment was Trout.
The rare occurrence in this at bat is the fact that Chris Sale, in his 152 plate appearances after throwing his 101st pitch, Sale has allowed two homeruns (1.3%). Which brings me to the
Mike Trout Grand Slam
And here come the goosebumps. I was in Lazy Dog Bar and Grill in Westminster when Trout took a changeup that is clearly out of the zone, and put it into the rocks. How he did that? I don’t know. Why he swung at that pitch? I have no idea. Trout would probably be mad at himself for swinging at that pitch. He’s certainly not mad at the result, but I think he would usually advise himself to lay off of a 3-2 out-of-the-zone changeup. But Mike Trout does Mike Trout things and the game is all tied up.
Interesting notes about these last two at bats:
1) Howie Kendrick is not the guy you would expect to get to a full count. The MLB average for a plate appearance reaching a three ball count in 2014 is 19.5%. Howie Kendrick, for his career, gets to a three ball count only 13.7% of the time.
2) Chris Sale only allows for three ball counts 17.2% of the time. He allowed back to back three ball counts to Kendrick and Trout.
3) On full counts, Sale only permits a paltry .162 batting average and .281 a slugging percentage. In the 8th inning, the Angels batted 1.000 with a 2.500 slugging percentage.
4) Sale has the league’s best opponents on base percentage mark at .190. The Angels have 5 batters in a row reach versus Sale.
To wrap things up, in their entirety this is what happened for Mike Trout to hit a game tying grand slam in the bottom of the eighth inning:
1) Erick Aybar, who is terrible at hitting for extra bases, gets an extra base hit against a pitcher who is elite against limiting extra base hits.
2) Mr. Patience Chris Iannetta, who rarely hits ground balls, takes the first pitch he sees and grounds it up the middle.
3) Cowgill, who never swings at first pitches, swings at the first pitch
4) Alexei Ramirez, one of the best defensive shortstops in the game, make a poor defensive play allowing Cowgill to get on base and Iannetta to advance.
5) Howie Kendrick, who reaches full counts at a below average rate, reaches a full count against a pitcher who gives up full counts at a below average rate.
6) Howie Kendrick, who gets a hit in only 22% of plate appearances after reaching an 0-2 count, gets a hit against a pitcher who only allows a hit in 14% of plate appearances after 0-2
7) Chris Sale goes to back to back full counts
8) Mike Trout swings at a pitch out of the zone with three balls
9) Chris Sale gives up a homerun after his 101st pitch
Sometimes, you just can’t predict baseball. I remember where I was when Trout did the unpredictable, do you?