41-year-old Raul Ibañez steals spotlight from Mike Trout and Bryce Harper
Hotly anticipated because it would be the first regular season major league game to feature both Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, the 2012 Rookies of the Year widely considered the two most talented young players in the game, Monday night's Angels-Nationals game at Nationals Park was decided largely without the influence of the two young stars. Instead, it was 41-year-old Raul Ibañez, a veteran twenty years Harper's senior, who delivered the game's big hit.
Adding an extra layer of irony, because the game took place in a National League park, Ibañez, the Angels regular designated hitter, didn't even start the game. Instead, he came up as a pinch-hitter for reliever Fernando Salas in the top of the eighth inning with the game tied 1-1, the bases loaded, and two out. Nationals set-up man Tyler Clippard threw Ibañez two changeups low and away. Ibañez swung over the top of the first one but went down and got the second, lacing it over Harper's head to the warning track in the left-field gap, just shy of the 377-foot sign, for a three-run double that gave the Angels a 4-1 lead.
The Nationals got one back when Ian Desmond led off the ninth inning with a home run off Angels closer Ernesto Frieri, but Frieri proceeded to strike out the side around a two-out walk to seal the Angels' 4-2 win.
As far as the two young studs were concerned, Trout can be said to have won their first head-to-head meeting --assuming you don't count the 2012 All-Star Game, where they both played the final four innings, or the 2011 Arizona Fall League season, when the two played in the same outfield as teammates on the Scottsdale Scorpions. On Monday night, Trout went 2-for-5 with a pair of singles to Harper's 0-for-3 with a walk. Both struck out once.
Harper's walk came in the middle of an inning in which Angels starter Garrett Richards appeared to lose his control completely, walking Denard Span and Harper on ten pitches to start the inning, then hitting Jayson Werth to load the bases. Span scored the game's first run on Adam LaRoche's subsequent groundout. When Rendon followed with a chopper to first base, Albert Pujols, who later stole his first base of the season during the Angels' eight inning rally, made a nice play, charging the ball and firing home to nab Harper on an extremely close play at the plate.
Another highlight of that inning was this pitch from Richards, the fourth ball to Span, which went to the backstop on a fly and ricocheted right back to Richards without being touched by another player or the umpire (Vine courtesy the Washington Post's Dan Steinberg):
Trout and Harper will get two more chances to show off in front of one another in this series with Tyler Skaggs and Taylor Jordan taking the mound Tuesday night and Jered Weaver and Gio Gonzalez facing off on Wednesday. On Monday night, however, they played second fiddle to a player who was drafted by the Mariners four months before Harper was born.