From start to finish it felt like one of those nights when LeBron decides to turn up his game on the big stage in New York at the Garden, maybe drop 50 on the Knicks just for fun.
Mike Trout put on that type of show in the Bronx on Saturday night, taking the opportunity on national TV to remind the baseball nation that the vast majority of us don’t get to see the best player in baseball nearly enough.
Most Yankee fans probably don’t want to hear it, grinding their teeth once again over another hideous Sonny Gray start, but, man, Trout was something to see on this night.
It wasn’t only that he went 5-for-5 for the first time in his career, or that he had four extra-base hits for the first time as well, as the Angels beat up on Gray early and routed the Yankees 11-4.
That alone was impressive enough. But to be at the Stadium was to appreciate the full Trout experience, starting with the sound of his home run and three doubles, all of which came off the bat like cannon shots, at an Aaron Judge-like decibel level.
Yet for me, the most mesmerizing part is simply watching Trout run. Given his linebacker build, it’s hard to believe how quickly he explodes out of the box and accelerates to top speed, as he starts flying around the bases.
In fact, on a night when Trout flexed his long ball muscles, I was awed watching him beat out a ground ball to deep short for his fifth hit of the night, on a ball that Didi Gregorius turns into an out against almost anybody else in baseball.
For all of Trout’s gaudy numbers, Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia indicated it’s those hustle plays that define the two-time MVP’s game.
“He runs that way every time he hits the ball,” Scioscia said. “I think it was the way he was raised. He leaves it all out on the field.”
It’s part of what everybody around the Angels loves about him. That and his low-key personality; he doesn’t seem to have an ounce of diva in him, so it was no surprise that he downplayed having such a big night here in New York.
“I always enjoy coming back to the East Coast,” he said, referring to his south Jersey roots. “Get to see family and friends. It’s always good to play here.”
He’s put up big numbers at Yankee Stadium, now hitting .389 with seven home runs in 19 games here, but again, he wasn’t biting when asked if he liked the big stage. “I see the ball well here,” he said. “Other than that, it’s just good to get back to the East Coast.”
Maybe he won’t say so, but his combination of power and speed sets him apart and makes you wish he didn’t play on the West Coast for a team that has made only one playoff appearance during his career.
The good news, of course, is that at least we get to see Judge on a nightly basis, and, in truth, the big guy is every bit as impressive in his own way. On Friday night, in fact, he showed off the one superior tool that Trout doesn’t have when he uncorked that 100 mph throw from right field.
Judge delivered his own cannon shot Saturday night, launching a 442-foot homer over the bullpen in right-center in the first inning, as he continues to be every bit a must-see in his sophomore year as he was as a rookie.
It’s a great thing for baseball that Judge, a California kid, turned out to be a steal for the Yankees, with the 32nd pick of the 2013 draft, and has become a darling of the sport in the big city.
Trout, on the other hand, is the south Jersey kid who wound up in Southern California, famously picked 25th in the draft by the Angels just when the Yankees were starting to think they might have a shot at him at 29th that year, in 2009.
Because the Angels haven’t won much, sometimes it seems we see more of Trout during the NFL season, in Philadelphia rooting for his beloved Eagles.
Trout, of course, could have been a free agent by now, but chose to sign a long-term deal with the Angels after the 2014 season — six years for $145 million.
But his contract runs out after the 2020 season, and low-key personality or not, put Trout on a winner and he’d become a lot more famous. For the moment, Judge is on his way to overtaking him as the face of baseball, especially if they win a championship.
The Yankees have some work to do on the pitching front, though, as Gray hasn’t performed as they expected, and now he’s becoming a full-blown problem for this team.
They have plenty of time to figure that out, though. Which is why on this night, perhaps even rational Yankee fans could sit back and enjoy the show Trout put on at the Stadium.