September 28, 2022

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Angels open season with energetic win over White Sox

For the first time in two years, the sounds of a real crowd filled Angel Stadium on Thursday night.

With a limited number of fans allowed to attend the team’s opening day game against the Chicago White Sox, returning to the ballpark after the 2020 season was staged without any spectators, a familiar soundtrack underscored the game.

Compulsory cheers during the pregame introduction ceremony. Eager gasps when Mike Trout pulled a long line drive in his first at-bat just foul. Sudden roars when third baseman Anthony Rendon snagged a high bouncing ball in the third inning, and shortstop José Iglesias made a diving stop on a grounder in the top of the eighth. And a constant, familiar buzz during breaks in the action throughout.

The most electric noise, however, emanated in the bottom of the eighth inning, building like a wave as the Angels overturned a one-run deficit en route to a 4-3 season-opening win.

It began with David Fletcher, fresh off signing a new five-year, $26 million contract Thursday afternoon, racing to first base after his ground ball deflected off White Sox reliever Aaron Bummer. Shohei Ohtani also hit a grounder in the next at-bat, but the White Sox failed to record an out after a throw from second baseman Nick Madrigal pulled shortstop Tim Anderson off the bag in a botched double-play attempt.

The 13,207 fans in attendance then roared to life, chanting “MVP!” as Trout came to the plate. Four pitches into the at-bat, Fletcher advanced to third on a passed ball. On pitch No. 5, Trout smoked an RBI single into left field, flinging his arms in the air after tying the game at 3-3.

“The energy, whoa,” Trout said during an on-field postgame interview. “It’s good stuff.”

The Angels took the lead two at-bats later, after Justin Upton loaded the bases by drawing an 11-pitch walk — “that pretty much won the game for us,” manager Joe Maddon said — and Pujols drove in the go-ahead run with a soft tapper to third, recording his 2,101st career RBI in his 21st-straight opening day start.

Closer Raisel Iglesias secured the save with two strikeouts in the ninth, giving the Angels their first opening day win since 2013.

“Thirteen [thousand fans] felt like 40,000, 50,000, 60,000,” Maddon said. “It was really loud. Totally different. The vibe is way more normal. You’re going to get those performances out of the guys just based on the fan input alone.”

Early in the night, Angels fans didn’t have much to cheer. Against White Sox starter Lucas Giolito, their hitters failed to reach base the first time through the order, striking out six times in the opening three innings.

With two outs in the fourth, they finally got on the board, tying the game at 1-1 after back-to-back walks by Trout and Rendon set Upton up for an RBI single.

The next half-inning, however, the crowd groaned again, falling silent after Adam Eaton launched a center-cut Dylan Bundy change-up over the right-field wall for a two-run homer.

That was Bundy’s only big mistake Thursday. Starting on opening day for the second time in his career, the right-hander gave up only three runs in six innings, striking out six batters with six hits and one walk.

Leaning heavily on his curveball and slider, and showing an uptick velocity from last season by averaging 91.7 mph with his fastball, Bundy retired 10 of his first 12 batters and fired strikes on 59 of 88 pitches, allowing his only other run in the second inning after Luis Robert doubled, stole third and scored on a wild pitch.

Like the rest of his teammates, he found the return of fans to be a welcome sight.

“It was kind of weird the first inning or two,” Bundy said, “hearing real crowd noise and not the fake stuff we heard last year.”

Once Bundy finished a scoreless sixth, keeping the Angels within one after Max Stassi’s solo home run a half-inning prior, relievers Aaron Slegers and Mike Mayers each posted zeroes in the next two innings to set the stage for the Angels’ raucous two-run rally in the eighth.

To Maddon, the inning epitomized the old-school “1985” message he had preached throughout spring training, exemplifying the importance of making contact, working counts at the plate, and doing the little things he believes can fuel them — and all those in the stands too — throughout the season.

“For an opening night, that’s as good as it’s going to get with your team,” Maddon said. “If we keep playing that type of baseball, we’re going to win a lot of games.”