The ball was crushed, cracked, clobbered down the line.
Had he hit it higher, who knows how far it would have flown into the night.
The Angels got plenty of help in a 10-3 win over the Kansas City Royals on Monday, scoring each of their first four runs on Royals defensive blunders and riding an electric 10-strikeout start from right-hander Alex Cobb to their seventh win in their first 10 games.
But it wasn’t until Shohei Ohtani unloaded on an elevated fastball in the seventh inning, breaking open what was a one-run game with a two-run double that smacked against the wall in right, that the Angels finally began to pull away.
“Did you see that right there?” manager Joe Maddon asked his bench coach, Mike Gallego, as the two runs crossed the plate. “It’s impressive. He’s an impressive athlete.”
On the third pitch of his two-out at-bat, Ohtani took the kind of powerful cut that is quickly coming to define his early-season tear. He planted his right heel in the dirt. He swung his hips almost 180 degrees. And he leaned all the way into a pitch over the inner half of the plate.
The line drive left his barrel like a rocket, recording a 119-mph exit velocity that marked the best of his career and the hardest by any MLB player since last July.
“My lower body is there, feeling strong,” Ohtani said through his interpreter. “That’s the biggest difference from last year. If it was last year, I probably wouldn’t have been able to pull that ball that hard.”
Indeed, after hitting below .200 in a disappointing 2020 season he never felt at full strength, Ohtani now has a .333 batting average, 1.109 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and team-high 11 RBIs.
Three at-bats later, Ohtani raced home on a wild pitch to stretch the Angels’ lead to four. Then in the ninth, he hit another RBI double before scoring again on Mike Trout’s two-run home run down the left-field line.
“He is absolutely engaged,” Maddon said. “He’s feeling pretty good about himself.”
Here are other observations from Monday night.
Cobb delivers vintage performance
For only the eighth time in his career, Cobb recorded double-digit strikeouts in his winning effort.
Most of them came courtesy of a hard-biting splitter, which Cobb threw 52 times to induce 16 swings and misses.
“When I throw that pitch well, it disguises itself as a fastball,” Cobb said. “The hitter really has to respect it because I’ve been able to locate my fastball over my career. It’s not something where they can just sit back and expect it to drop… It’s really a fun pitch to have when it’s working.”
The right-hander mowed through the Royals lineup over the first five innings, surrendering only two hits to his first 18 batters and retiring the side in order three times.
It made Maddon, who managed Cobb during the pitcher’s best season with the Tampa Bay Rays from 2012 to 2014, feel like he was in “a time warp.”
“That’s what he looked like several years ago,” Maddon said. “It’s really impressive to watch.”
The Royals finally made Cobb work in the sixth, stringing together a double, walk and RBI single with one out to get on the board.
Cobb got the second out of the inning, but was then replaced after having already thrown 32 pitches in the frame. Reliever Steve Cishek entered the game and surrendered a two-run single in his first at-bat — runs that were charged to Cobb — but then retired the side with the lead intact.
In his first two starts with the Angels, Cobb has 17 strikeouts in just 11 2/3 innings.
“The big thing for him is, the splitter is back,” Maddon said. “That’s the pitch … When that split is diving like it was tonight, that sets everything else up.”
RBIs not needed
By the end of the fifth inning Monday, the Angels had no RBIs, no extra-base hits, were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position.
Yet, they held a 4-0 lead.
Their first big break came in the second inning, after back-to-back singles by Jared Walsh and Justin Upton brought Jose Rojas to the plate. Rojas flied out to center, only forcing the Royals’ Michael Taylor to back up a few steps. But Walsh tagged up at second anyway, breaking for third to test Taylor’s arm in the outfield.
It paid off. Taylor’s throw was short, one-hopping well short of the bag before ricocheting off Walsh during his slide. As Walsh got up and made the turn home, the ball bounced toward the third-base dugout. Royals pitcher Brady Singer retrieved it but misfired with a throw to the plate, allowing not only Walsh to score, but Upton to also race home from first as well.
The next two runs were less dramatic — a third-inning double-play by Ohtani that scored a runner from third, and a simple fielding error by Royals shortstop Nicky Lopez in the fifth.
Outfielder Juan Lagares was a late scratch with left calf tightness and is day to day. Jared Walsh played right field in his place. … Catcher Max Stassi exited the game in the middle of the sixth inning with left thumb irritation, but said a postgame X-ray was negative. He will undergo an MRI on Tuesday. Kurt Suzuki relieved him midgame, hitting a double in the seventh.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.