Luis Rengifo, called up from triple-A on Sunday morning, drew a one-out walk to spark the ninth-inning rally. Taylor Ward, who has emerged as an offensive force this season, lined the single to right field to advance Rengifo to third.
Shohei Ohtani, the reigning American League most valuable player, banged the game-tying, two-run double off the center-field wall, and Anthony Rendon lined the RBI single to center to cap a three-run uprising that carried the Angels to a dramatic 5-4 walk-off victory over the Washington Nationals in Angel Stadium.
And who, in the eyes of manager Joe Maddon, were the stars of a game that sent a Mother’s Day crowd of 32,337 into a frenzy and the Angels pouring out of their dugout to mob Rendon?
“For me, it was Oliver Ortega and Jaime Barria,” Maddon said of the unheralded relievers who recorded the final nine outs. Ortega escaped a first-and-third, no-out jam after giving up a run in the seventh and Barria threw two scoreless innings. “Ortega didn’t cave in. And Jaime just keeps doing a good job.”
This is how this season is going for the Angels, who are leading the American League West with a 19-11 record because they have been getting contributions up and down their lineup and pitching staff.
Ohtani and Rendon, who have struggled at the plate for much of the season, delivered the decisive ninth-inning hits on Sunday, but reserve infielder Jack Mayfield stroked a pinch-hit, two-run single to right to cut a 3-0 deficit to 3-2 in the sixth.
Shortstop Andrew Velazquez, who is batting .131 but playing Gold Glove-caliber defense, made another dazzling play to save a run and possibly more with the bases loaded in the third.
From the second-base side of the bag, Velazquez dived up the middle to stop Juan Soto’s shot, scrambled to his knees and made a 12-foot, around-the-back pass to second baseman Tyler Wade for the out. One run scored, but pitcher Patrick Sandoval got Josh Bell to ground out to end the inning.
And after yielding consecutive singles to Cesar Hernandez, Soto and Bell for a run that pushed Washington’s lead to 4-2 in the seventh, Ortega minimized damage by striking out Nelson Cruz with an 81-mph curve, Yadiel Hernandez with a 94-mph fastball and getting Maikel Franco to ground out.
“I mean, that’s a winning team, right?” Rendon said. “And that’s what it’s gonna take if we’re going to be where we want to be at the end of the year. It’s going to take all 40 guys on the 40-man roster, all 26 guys [on the active roster] need to pitch in.
“Rengifo had a great at-bat in the ninth. Barria had two shutout innings. Mayfield came in with the two RBIs. It’s next man up. It’s not the same guy. Ask Mike [Trout] if he’s been able to do it for the last 10 years. He ain’t been able to do it. So it’s a team game, and that’s what it’s gonna take to win games.”
Trout, the three-time AL MVP who is batting .307 with a 1.055 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, six homers and 13 RBIs, had a chance to be the hero Sunday, but with Rengifo and Ward aboard in the ninth, he struck out on a 97-mph fastball from Nationals closer Tanner Rainey for the second out, Trout’s third whiff of the game.
Ohtani, who was five for 26 (.192) in May and one for 10 in the series, then drove an 88-mph slider off the wall in center to score Rengifo and Ward for a 4-4 tie. Rendon squared up a 97-mph fastball for the game-winning hit.
An Angels offense that led the AL in runs and homers and ranked second in OPS and walks had five singles, struck out nine times and went one for six with runners in scoring position through eight innings.
“Well, that’s just unlikely, improbable,” Maddon said of the ninth-inning rally. “I mean, the way they had been pitching against us, we really weren’t making any contact, let alone hard contact. We’ve been in a little offensive funk. However, we’ve been good late.”
The middle of the Angels order — Trout, Ohtani and Rendon — combined to go five for 33 in the series before the ninth inning Sunday, and all three struck out against reliever Kyle Finnegan in the seventh.
“We did well pitching to those guys all series, but you’re playing with fire when those guys come up in the middle of that order,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “You saw what they can do real quick.”
Even with two hits Sunday, Rendon, who has struggled to find his power stroke in his return from season-ending right hip surgery last July, is batting just .213 with a .683 OPS, three homers and 13 RBIs on the season.
It’s a far cry from 2019, when he hit .319 with a 1.010 OPS, 34 homers, 44 doubles and 126 RBIs to help the Nationals win the World Series, but Rendon is not chasing numbers this season. He wants more hardware.
“I’ll hit .200 if we keep winning games,” Rendon said. “Yeah, it sucks, it’s frustrating, but not many people get to feel what we felt when we won the World Series and were the last team standing. That means more than any individual accomplishment. It’s a team game. It’s not like playing golf.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.