ANAHEIM, Calif. — The scar on the back of Miguel Sano’s lower right leg is deep, dark and horseshoe-shaped, a permanent remnant of the late start he got to this season. “My souvenir,” he said with a laugh.
He’s got another nice souvenir now. Well, some fan in the cheap seats at Angels Stadium does.
Sano, back just five days from that scar-caused absence, hammered a pitch from Angels reliever Ty Buttrey into those seats beyond the right-field scoreboard, a 390-foot reminder of what a game-changer he can be. That blast changed a tense, tied contest into the Twins’ sixth win in seven games, a 3-1 victory over Los Angeles.
The win, set up when Jake Odorizzi went unscored upon for the fourth time in five starts, restores the Twins’ lead in the AL Central to 5 1/2 games over Cleveland, and continues the second-best start to a season for the Twins, now 31-16.
It also just amplifies the thrill that Sano feels about what he’s certain will be his best season yet.
“I feel so good. I’m so happy again,” the Twins’ third baseman said shortly before Monday’s game. He also connected on a long one Saturday in Seattle amid the Twins’ six-homer outburst against the Mariners, and said it did wonders for his confidence. “The home run, it felt great because it’s like, ‘I’m really back.’ I worked so hard in the offseason, and I want to hit more of them.”
He did a few hours later, at the best moment possible. After Odorizzi pitched five almost spotless innings, only once allowing a runner to reach second base, the Twins turned over a 1-0 lead to their bullpen. But Tommy La Stella, who pounded the Twins by batting .600 (9 for 15) last week in Target Field, victimized them again, this time by singling home the tying run off Taylor Rogers in the seventh inning.
The Angels turned to righthander Ty Buttrey, who had allowed only two runs in 21 appearances all season, to keep the score tied. But after Eddie Rosario singled, Sano foiled that plan, turning a low 97-mph fastball into a missile headed for the seats in a hurry.
“I feel good at the plate. My timing is not 100 percent yet, but better every day,” the 26-year-old slugger had said, and he proved it with that shot. “We have a lot of games yet, and I feel like it’s still going to be a great season.”
Could be. Only in 1970, when they went 32-15 through 47 games, did the Twins have a faster start — and that team went on to win a division title.
That’s a ways off, but Twins manager Rocco Baldelli likes the way his lineup looks with Sano in it.
“It was just a good swing. He stayed through the ball well and drove it out the other way. He has that kind of power,” Baldelli said. “He likes to go out there and hit balls hard. Having him planted somewhere in our lineup, it’s good feeling.”
The Angels got a bad feeling from the game, and not just because they lost. In the span of about 10 minutes in the eighth inning, a couple of important players were injured. Shohei Ohtani was apparently hit on the left hand by a pitch that home plate umpire Gary Cedarstrom ruled he had swung at, striking out. And the very next batter, Andrelton Simmons, stumbled over first base as he tried to beat Rogers to the bag, suffering a left-ankle sprain that will require X-rays and a magnetic resonance imagine test to determine its seriousness.
Odorizzi had an arduous night, but a successful one. He allowed only three singles and two walks over five innings, but needed 90 pitches to do it, causing manager Rocco Baldelli to pull him despite the fact that Odorizzi allowed only one runner to advance as far as second base.
“He gave us five great innings. Jake did not let up in any way,” said Baldelli, pointing out that 44 of the starter’s 90 pitches came in the fourth and fifth inning. “It was the right time.”
The lone threat for Odorizzi came in the fifth inning, when David Fletcher walked — despite a borderline pitch that the Twins believed should have been strike three — and La Stella, who is now 12-for-19 against the Twins, reached on a bunt single. That brought up Mike Trout, who owns a 1.058 OPS in the month of May. But Odorizzi got the former MVP to fly out to left to end the threat.
And set things up for some Sano heroics.
“He’s approaching everything the right way,” Baldelli said. “He’s hit some balls good, he’s been out there getting his work in, he’s getting back into the swing of things and getting used to being out there every single day.”