Much anticipation went into the 2021 season as the Angels looked locked and loaded for a push towards the playoffs, which would snap a six-year playoff drought. But as injuries and tough luck piled up early and often, the Halos would suffer the ill fate of elimination in the middle of September and finish the year 77-85, 18 games out of first in the AL West and 15 games away from the final AL Wild Card slot. Through the darkness there was definitely light in individual performances as well as quality team victories. These five games (listed below) showed the Angels resilience, grit, tenacity and willingness to put everything out on the field to pick up a W on any given night:
#5: July 6 vs. Boston Red Sox
It only seems fitting that we start the countdown off with a game centered around Shohei Ohtani. Coming off his worst start of the season the week prior against the New York Yankees, Ohtani battled back with vengeance against another AL East heavyweight in the Boston Red Sox.
“SHOTIME” flashed his talents at the plate first by knocking in David Fletcher with an RBI Double in the first inning. He would follow up on the mound tossing seven quality innings while allowing just two earned runs on five hits with four strikeouts. His efficiency stood out, tossing only 89 pitching and fooling Boston batters with a variety of pitch speeds from 98.5 MPH to as low as 70 MPH.
It was a complete all around game from the Angels. Great starting pitching, timely hitting throughout the lineup (6 of 9 starters recording a hit with Fletcher extending his hitting streak to 20 games and Stassi a triple shy of recording a cycle), top tier defensive plays (Juan Lagares robbing Xander Bogaerts of a 2-Run HR in the 6th) and late lockdown pitching by the backend of the bullpen (Mayers and Iglesias). The 5-3 Angels win got the Halos back above .500 (43-42) while proving they could contend with teams seasoned for playoff runs and records well above .500.
#4: July 2 vs. Baltimore Orioles
Just four days earlier, the Angels welcomed the Baltimore Orioles to the Big A, who were the worst team in the American League. The game did not start off on a high note as starter Griffin Canning was hooked in the third inning after the Orioles tagged the righty for six runs. Canning would be lucky enough to factor in with just a no-decision thanks in part to an offensive outburst from his Halo teammates.
In typical Shohei Ohtani fashion, he stole the show providing a record performance at the plate by clearing the deck with home runs #29 and #30. As Ohtani set plenty of history during the 2021 season, the Japan native became the first American League player to record 30 Home Runs and 10 Stolen Bases in his first 81 games of the year, joining Sammy Sosa (1998) and Albert Pujols (2009) as the only three players to accomplish this feat.
The top of the order began to solidify itself as David Fletcher, Ohtani and Anthony Rendon combined to go 6-for-14 with 4 RBI and 5 R, while Max Stassi, Jose Iglesias and Taylor Ward balanced out the bottom of the order with five hits and 3 RBI.
The walk-off bug creeped up in the bottom of the ninth in a familiar way as Jared Walsh once again took center stage unleashing more clutch hitting. His game-winning single kicked off the homestand on a winning note by the final score of 8-7, making the Angels victorious in four of their previous five and eventually leading to five wins on the six-game homestand.
#3: April 4 vs. Chicago White Sox
Opening Weekend always brings joy to fans as it celebrates baseball returning to the diamond for a 162-game marathon that we dearly missed during the 2020 Pandemic season. April 4 (Easter Sunday) was circled on many calendars as it marked the return of Shohei Ohtani on the mound for the first time since 2019.
The Two-Way phenom did not disappoint on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball, striking out seven over 4.2 innings and reaching 100 MPH on the radar gun nine times was just the tip of the iceberg. Ohtani sent shivers down the spines of baseball fanatics worldwide by blasting off in the first inning with a 451-foot home run (115.2 MPH Exit Velocity), becoming the first AL Starting Pitcher to homer against an AL team since 1972 when Roric Harrison (Baltimore) did it on the final day of the regular season.
A late inning blunder by the bullpen paved the way for fans to witness the emergence of Jared Walsh. His three-run home run against reliever Matt Foster not only secured the first walk-off of the season (“HE WENT TO JARED”), but proved Albert Pujols’ days at first base were numbered. This 7-4 victory sealed a series win against a strong White Sox squad, who would eventually win the AL Central division, but also got the Angels off in the right direction to begin the year, which is something the organization struggled with in season’s past.
#2: June 30 @ New York Yankees
Angels versus Yankees is always a must watch affair in primetime, especially when Shohei Ohtani makes his first career start in the Bronx. The much anticipated matchup did not even last one inning, as Ohtani spun his worst outing of the year yielding seven earned runs with four walks before being lifted and only stepping to the plate once.
Down by a landslide early on, the Angels chipped the Pinstripes lead down to just three prior to a 91-minute rain delay, which ended up being the team’s saving grace. Heroics came into play in the ninth inning against none other than Yankees All-Star closer Aroldis Chapman. Jared Walsh made the biggest splash early into the New York morning with a game-tying grand slam, for his 20th home run of the season. To prove how unusual this night would be, the Walsh blast was the first career grand slam allowed by Chapman in his seven-year career.
With Ohtani exiting the game early, it put Manager Joe Maddon in a situation of shuffling the lineup without a designated hitter and using pitchers as hitters. Without this in-game adjustment, Luis Rengifo’s pinch hit two-run, game-winning double into left field could have never happened. It was the most unlikely scenario, but the “Never Say Die” attitude was worth the wait in one of the most unfriendly environments in baseball.
As satisfying as downing the Yankees with a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth from closer Raisel Iglesias, the wild 11-8 come-from-behind victory made Major League Baseball history as the Angels became the first team to allow at least seven runs in the first and score at least seven runs in the ninth to win, according to STATS. It took a full team effort especially with 19 players taking the field in an over six hour game from first to last pitch.
#1: August 19 @ Detroit Tigers
Who knew an early morning getaway day would turn out to be a historic franchise moment. A sweep of the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park looked to be an unlikely result as the Angels trailed 10-2 heading into the 6th inning.
Contributions came all around the lineup especially from rookie Brandon Marsh. Earlier that day, Marsh moved up on MLB Pipeline’s prospect ranking list (No. 43 overall), and celebrated the achievement by becoming the first Angels player since Erick Aybar (2011) with two triples in a single game.
After striking for six runs in the 6th and a solo run in the 7th to cut the deficit to only one, Max Stassi’s two-run shot in the 8th gave the Halos the lead for good, shocking the Tigers and the baseball world.
With the final score standing strong at 13-10 in favor of the visiting Angels, the history books would remember this moment for eternity. The rally matched the largest Angels comeback in franchise history, which was set back on August 29, 1986, conveniently against the Tigers as well. The eight-run deficit also tied the largest comeback in the majors this season when the San Diego Padres stormed back against the Washington Nationals on July 8. To top it off, all MLB clubs combined to go 240-1 this season when holding an eight-run lead at any point during a game. To say it was a magical miracle would be an understatement!
For the Halos enthusiasts that may not think one of the five games (listed above) are worthy of Top-5 status, here are four other game options (in no particular order) that nearly made the Top-5 list:
June 12 @ Arizona Diamondbacks - Anthony Rendon records 4 RBI and Jose Suarez comes in clutch with four great innings of relief as a 9th inning rally leads to a 8-7 victory
July 24 @ Minnesota Twins - Patrick Sandoval’s near no-hitter (8.2 innings) paired with 13 strikeouts and Jack Mayfield homering for the third consecutive game takes down the Twins by a slim margin of 2-1
August 6 @ Los Angeles Dodgers - A 4-3 10-inning win against the crosstown rival Dodgers at Chavez Ravine proved poignant in the first head-to-head matchup since the Halos released Albert Pujols in May
August 30 vs. New York Yankees - A back and forth battle with plenty of fireworks (Mayfield’s Grand Slam and Ohtani’s 42nd Home Run) favors the west coast Angels by the final score of 8-7 in front of 30,000+ fans at the Big A