Shohei Ohtani's home run helps Angels beat Astros, end four-game skid

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Jack Harris
·4 min read
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El bateador designado de los Angelinos de Los Ángeles Shohei Ohtani observa su cuadrangular junto al catcher Martin Maldonado en el duelo del domingo 25 de abril del 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Designated hitter Shohei Ohtani hits a solo home run in the eighth inning to lift the Angels to a 4-2 win over the Houston Astros on Sunday. (Michael Wyke / Associated Press)

This time, Shohei Ohtani took a leisurely stroll around the bases.

The moment the ball exploded off his bat, there was no doubt about where it was going to land.

Ohtani lifted the Angels to a much-needed 4-2 win over the Houston Astros on Sunday, blasting a tiebreaking solo home run to center field in the eighth inning that put the Angels in front for good.

It was Ohtani’s seventh home run and 16th RBI of the season, both team highs.

It helped the Angels (10-10) avoid a four-game sweep to the Astros (10-11) in a series they played without Anthony Rendon and, for the final 3½ games, Mike Trout, who was unavailable again Sunday with a left elbow bruise. Trout hopes to be back in the lineup Monday.

It prevented a strong Angels pitching performance from going to waste too after Dylan Bundy yielded two runs in six innings and relievers Chris Rodriguez (credited with his first major league win), Mike Mayers (credited with the hold) and Raisel Iglesias (credited with the save) combined for three scoreless innings.

A half-inning before Ohtani went deep, Yuli Gurriel hammered his own game-changing home run, somehow managing to swat a Bundy fastball a couple of inches inside the zone out to left field for a game-tying two-run shot.

For a moment, it looked like another winnable game was about to slip away from the Angels, who entered with Sunday with losses in four straight games and seven of their last nine.

But then Ohtani walked into the batter’s box, got a fastball over the outer half of the plate and sent a 440-foot moonshot ricocheting off a Budweiser-branded row of high-top bar seats beyond the center-field fence.

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“I would bet that’s almost the first one hit there, to that Budweiser bar room,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said . “That thing was absolutely crushed.”

Others have hit home runs to that part of Minute Maid Park, but few in such dramatic fashion.

Ohtani had homered Wednesday and Saturday, but both of those barely left the yard, forcing him to sprint around the bases in case the ball caught the top of the wall. Sunday was different, Ohtani jogging out of the box, raising a finger as he rounded second base and greeting teammate José Iglesias with a two-handed high-five at the top step of a jubilant dugout.

“As soon as he hit it, I was screaming out of my lungs,” Rodriguez said. “That was a huge turnaround.”

Rodriguez had kept the score tied an inning before Ohtani’s blast, striking out Myles Straw with a tailing two-seamer to strand two runners and quiet a crowd of 21,781.

“There were a lot of fans out there today, it was loud, things kind of sped up,” the 22-year-old rookie said. “But took a couple deep breaths, slowed things down.”

The final six outs were less stressful. Mayers retired the side in order in the eighth. Then Iglesias, pitching with a two-run cushion after Jose Rojas doubled and scored on Anthony Bemboom's single in the top of the ninth, secured his third save by getting Aledmys Díaz to roll into a game-ending double play.

They were following the lead set earlier in the afternoon by Bundy, who rolled through six scoreless innings before surrendering the two-run home run to Gurriel in the seventh.

After working around a double in the first and hit batter in the second, Bundy caught fire. He retired 10 straight, half coming via strikeout.

After the Astros had runners on first and second with no outs in the sixth, Bundy jammed Michael Brantley with an inside fastball to induce a soft flyout to center, then buried a two-seamer to Alex Bregman that was grounded to third for a double play.

Bundy was pitching with a two-run lead from the fifth inning on, thanks a whacky two-run single from David Fletcher that bounced off the first base bag.

And if not for Gurriel guessing right on Bundy’s inside fastball in the seventh, the right-hander might have gotten through the day unscathed.

“This guy is an ace,” Maddon said, “and he pitched like it today.”

Now, the Angels’ rotation turns over to Ohtani, who will get the start Monday and could also hit in the game, a decision Maddon said is only complicated by the Angels’ short bench.

“He’s not shying away from anything,” Maddon said of Ohtani. “He is attacking everything on his plate. Tomorrow he wants to pitch and hit, and I’m going to try to figure that out. He wants the action. He wants to be there when it matters.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.