ANAHEIM, Calif. — Mike Trout would be a first-ballot Hall of Famer if he retired right now. Surely it would be unanimous, too, barring some persnickety voter seeking attention.
Trout’s statistics through the end of last season compare favorably with players such as Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle at the same stage of their careers.
The Los Angeles Angels’ center fielder has 361 home runs, 921 RBIs, and a .998 OPS. Trout doesn’t steal bases often these days but he has 204 of those, too.
He’s a three-time Most Valuable Player with four second-place finishes and is a 10-time All-Star.
When Trout walked to the plate at Angel Stadium in the first inning of Monday night’s 2-1 victory against the Red Sox, several fans seated close to the field stood up and posed for selfies with him in the background. Who can blame them for wanting photographic evidence they were only a few steps away from the best player of his generation?
What about the pitchers standing 60 feet, 6 inches away from Trout? What’s it like for them to face a player of his stature? We asked some of the Red Sox before the second game of the series Tuesday night. Trout had a two-run homer off Joely Rodriguez in the eighth inning in a 4-0 victory for the Angels.
“It’s like anyone else. Get strike one and then get strike two,” said Tanner Houck, who struck out Trout twice Monday and got him on a grounder to second base.
The way Houck sees it, the odds are in his favor.
“Great hitters make outs seven out of 10 times. As a pitcher you always have the advantage,” he said. “Even on a three-ball count, I always believe I have the advantage. You go right after them, no matter who they are.”
Trout is 0 for 4 in five plate appearances against Houck, all coming this season.
Houck said he would have preferred to step off the mound and take a few deep breaths before facing Trout. But with the pitch timer, that would be cutting it close.
“You can’t rush,” he said. “If you rush and leave a ball up, he’s going to hit it a long way. You really have to focus on every pitch.”
Kutter Crawford faced Trout for the first time Monday and walked him on six pitches.
“You see him on TV and in video games. Seeing him step in the box was like. ‘Oh, damn, that’s Mike Trout.’ But you still have a job to do,” he said.
Crawford worked the edges of the strike zone, but did get strikes on two fastballs on the outside corner.
“In the back of your mind, you know you can’t make a mistake,” Crawford said. “He doesn’t miss too many mistakes and he does damage when he hits the ball.”
James Paxton, who is scheduled to face the Angels on Wednesday, has faced Trout the most among Sox pitchers, 30 times. Trout was 5 for 28 with 11 strikeouts and two walks. When Paxton played for the Seattle Mariners, they were frequent foes over the years.
“It’s fun to face a guy like that,” Paxton said. “I have a ton of respect for Mike. It’s about executing with a hitter like that. He’s so good at covering the plate. You have to make your pitches in good places.”
“Whoever the hitter is, even a player like that, you have to attack them.”
Closer Kenley Jansen has had the most success against Trout among Sox pitchers, striking him out eight times in 10 at-bats. Trout also has a walk, a home run, and a fly ball to right field.
“I love it. Every time you can face Mike Trout, Shohei [Ohtani], Bryce Harper, and other heavyweight hitters, it brings out the best in you,” Jansen said.
“I don’t know what it is. You try and create that with other hitters and you can’t. I’m sure I’m not the only pitcher who feels that way.”
giggling and kicking our feet while watching this fr #GoHalos pic.twitter.com/P1dyr8M4vJ— Los Angeles Angels (@Angels) May 24, 2023
Jansen, unlike his teammates, feels the pitcher has only a “slight advantage” against Trout.
“You can’t miss against him or it’s on the freeway,” Jansen said. “He’s a great dude, too. I’ve gotten to know him a little and I like him. I like facing him, too. That’s what it’s all about, the competition.”
Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.