Mark Trumbo needed Sunday’s game as badly as the Angels did.
Trumbo needed it to wipe away the memory of a debilitating slump, one that has threatened to ruin his All-Star season. The Angels needed it to wipe away the memory of Saturday night.
In baseball, a short memory is important. One bad game lasts only until the next game starts. A slump can be put to rest with a game-winning hit.
That’s what Trumbo gave the Angels on Sunday, delivering a three-run homer in the second inning of a 4-3 win over the Kansas City Royals — and putting Saturday night’s crushing ninth-inning loss into the distant past.
The effect of the victory was critical since it allowed the Angels to stay within striking distance in the American League wild card race. After their loss Saturday, it looked like they might simply fold — that’s how badly it hurt them.
But they recovered to take two of three from the Royals in Kansas City and return home for their final and most important homestand of the season beginning Tuesday: three each against the Texas Rangers, Chicago White Sox and Seattle Mariners in what will likely decide whether they play on or go home.
Trumbo’s home run — his first since Aug. 21, a career-high 18-game homerless stretch — gave the Angels a 4-0 lead that slowly withered away. But unlike the previous night, when closer Ernesto Frieri failed to hold a 2-0 lead in the ninth and gave up back-to-back homers to Billy Butler and Salvador Perez, the Angels held on.
Trumbo hadn’t just been in the throes of a slump; he was sliding into hitter oblivion. He was batting just .177 over his previous 37 games, had lost his everyday job in left field to Vernon Wells and hadn’t played in five of the previous 11 games. When he returned to the lineup Sunday, he was eighth in the batting order.
But after Wells and Alberto Callaspo opened the second inning with singles off Royals left-hander Will Smith, Trumbo came up and drove a two-seam fastball on a 1-1 count over the fence in center field, 414 feet from home plate.
The moment must have felt familiar. Kauffman Stadium was the site of this season’s All-Star Game and home run derby, in which Trumbo hit 14 homers and finished third. But when the season resumed, his early season success slowly eluded him. His average dropped from .306 on July 29 to .268, and he had just four home runs since July 21.
“It’s nice,” he told FOX Sports West of the feeling of finally going deep. “It’s been a rough couple of months. My confidence is still there. The results might not be, but I’m going to keep trying.”
There’s no guarantee he’s shaken his slump. In fact, he probably hasn’t. He struck out his next three times at bat, including one that ended the sixth inning with runners at first and third.
But it might be a start of better things ahead. The Angels will need contributions from Trumbo and everyone else to finish strong and give themselves a chance.
And a chance is all they have right now.
“It’s confidence-building, no doubt,” Trumbo said. “We didn’t get (to the playoffs) last year and we’re definitely in it this year. You give yourself a chance, and that’s what counts.”