Shohei Ohtani’s home runs often seem to have a flair for the dramatic.
On Saturday night, the Angels star hit his 16th homer of the season, which left his bat at 118 mph and traveled 462 feet into the right-center-field stands in the third inning.
It wasn’t his hardest-hit or longest home run, but it was more than enough to electrify the Angel Stadium crowd after the Seattle Mariners scored a run in the first. And more than enough for the Mariners to want starter Logan Gilbert to intentionally walk him his third time up, in the sixth, after Mike Trout doubled.
They pitched to Ohtani in the ninth, however, with the tying runs on base, and this time he lined out to right to end the game, the Angels’ second straight loss to Seattle, 5-3.
Ohtani got his solo shot off Gilbert’s 96.8-mph, four-seam fastball, which he sent down the middle for the slugger to crush. Veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki joined in on the fun in the fourth, hitting his second home run of the season to double the Angels’ tally. But the bullpen couldn’t hold the lead after Patrick Sandoval’s high pitch count forced him out following five innings.
Sandoval gave up eight hits and two walks but just one run and struck out six. The Mariners got Sandoval’s count up early — he twice had to work out of bases-loaded jams. By the time he was finished, he’d thrown 95 pitches.
The Angels went one for five with runners in scoring position and stranded nine.
David MacKinnon’s moment
It took four games for David MacKinnon’s bat to make itself known on the scoreboard.
The 27-year-old rookie said he had not felt pressured to get his first major-league hit, but the thought lingered in his head since he was called up. Then it happened.
On Wednesday night, MacKinnon — who’s been nicknamed “Thor Jr.” for his resemblance to pitcher Noah Syndergaard — got his first hit, driving in a run in the process during the Angels’ 5-0 win over the Kansas City Royals.
He struck again Saturday against the Mariners, when he was put in as a pinch-hitter, driving in a run on a single in the sixth and taking over at third base. He walked in the ninth to bring the tying run to the plate.
“It’s a dream come true; like the entire last week has been a dream come true,” the Angels newcomer said after his first career hit.
The congratulatory texts poured in through the following days. By Friday, MacKinnon still was trying to respond to everyone who reached out.
“Anybody getting their first hit, it’s a really special thing to be a part of,” Syndergaard said. “He’s just a really good dude. … I think it’s cool having a little brother on the team.”
The long story of MacKinnon’s journey contains several reasons why his first hit might just be a little more special.
MacKinnon was not a highly touted prospect. The Easton, Mass., native was drafted by the Angels in 2017 in the 32nd round out of the University of Hartford on a $3,000 draft bonus. If he’d entered the draft three years later, when it was temporarily shortened to five rounds — it is now only 20 rounds — he would not have come close.
Then two years after getting drafted, he injured a knee badly enough to miss all but 18 games with the Inland Empire 66ers, the Angels’ class-A team, in San Bernardino.
“[My wife Jordan] was the one who talked me off that cliff of like, I’ll get the chance to come back and make a comeback,” he explained of his derailed year. That return was further delayed after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the minor leagues for all of 2020.
It did eventually get better. He got his next chance last year with the double-A Rocket City Trash Pandas, getting promoted to the triple-A Salt Lake Bees in April this year. It was there that the Angels, in need of a player who could contribute a good bat after losing Anthony Rendon for the season, took notice.
MacKinnon was hitting .327 with a .423 on-base-percentage over 56 games when he got called up to The Show. In the six games he’s played, mostly off the bench, both interim manager Phil Nevin and hitting coach Jeremy Reed have said his at-bats line up with the player they were expecting.
“To come up here and do it at the big league level, off the bench for probably somebody who has not done that too often, is even more impressive,” Nevin said before Saturday’s game.
“Great plate-discipline guy, commands the strike zone. He understands who he is,” Reed said. “He’s managing at-bats in a really short period of time and at the big league level. When you first get called up, it’s probably one of the toughest things to do is control anxiety, control the heartbeat, control the situation and the environment.”
On the other side of the ball, MacKinnon primarily has played first base as a pro but knows being with the big league team will require him to be flexible.