Anthony Rendon sent a long fly ball into the left-field corner in the seventh inning Thursday night, eliciting a full-throated roar from a sellout crowd of 44,723 in Angel Stadium, and when the right-field scoreboard flashed “HOME RUN,” it appeared the Angels had turned a one-run deficit into a one-run lead.
One little problem: The drive was foul. Third-base umpire Ryan Wills made the correct call, which was upheld by replay review, and Rendon grounded into a double play on the next pitch, his frustration and futility emblematic of a mostly empty season opener for the Angels.
Two-way star Shohei Ohtani was dominant, giving up one run, four hits and striking out nine in 4 2/3 innings, but Houston left-hander Framber Valdez was even better on a scorching 93-degree night, blanking the Angels on two hits over 6 2/3 innings of the Astros’ 3-1 victory.
The Angels managed four hits in the game, and Ohtani, Mike Trout and Rendon, the top three hitters in the lineup, combined to go one for 11.
As excited as Angels fans were when that seventh-inning drive left Rendon’s bat, manager Joe Maddon never got his hopes up in the third-base dugout.
“I thought it was foul, and so did [third-base-coach Phil Nevin],” Maddon said. “It’s just that’s something you ask a crew to look at in case you’re missing something, and that’s what they did.”
Valdez, relying heavily on a 95-mph sinking fastball and 83-mph curve, gave up two hits, both ground-ball singles by Matt Duffy, struck out six and walked one. He retired 15 straight from the second through sixth and needed only 67 pitches to complete six innings.
“Their pitcher was good, and we’ve seen him good in the past,” Maddon said. “We have not done well in this division, primarily because we haven’t hit well against good pitching.”
The Astros had a 1-0 lead when Trout reached on shortstop Jeremy Pena’s throwing error to start the seventh. Valdez survived the Rendon long-ball scare, Duffy reached on an infield single, and reliever Phil Maton struck out Jo Adell to end the inning.
Houston took a 3-0 lead in the eighth when two of reliever Ryan Tepera’s first four pitches as an Angel were hit for home runs, a solo shot to left by Alex Bregman and a solo shot to center by Yordan Alvarez.
The Angels scratched a run across in the bottom of the eighth when Brandon Marsh was hit by a pitch with two outs and scored on David Fletcher’s triple to left-center that made it 3-1.
Up stepped Ohtani, the reigning American League most valuable player who remained in the game thanks to baseball’s new rule allowing a pitcher to continue as a designated hitter after he leaves the mound.
Ohtani, representing the potential tying run, got under a Hector Neris pitch and flied to deep right field to end the inning, the slugger unable to take himself off the hook for a loss.
“I thought it might have a chance to leave the park,” Ohtani said through an interpreter, “but I just got under it.”
Ohtani usually worked into his velocity last season, his fastball ranging from 93-95 mph in the first inning before ticking up in later innings, but he took the mound with a flame-thrower Thursday night, hitting 100 mph twice and 99 mph three times in the opening inning.
The right-hander struck out four straight in the second and third innings, three with fastballs clocked at 99, 98 and 97 mph, before Michael Brantley banged a two-out double off the right-field wall.
Bregman followed with a looping single to left field, where Adell stumbled a bit during his glove-to-hand exchange and fired his throw home about half-way up the first-base line, Brantley scoring easily for a 1-0 Astros lead.
Ohtani struck out the side in the fourth, Yuli Gurriel on a 97-mph fastball, Kyle Tucker on a nasty 79-mph, down-and-in curve and Pena on an 83-mph slider. He closed his mound work by striking out Jose Altuve for a third time in the fifth.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
Source: Yahoo Sports