December 3, 2022

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Surging Halos 'feel unbeatable' after sixth straight win

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CHICAGO — No Noah Syndergaard, no problem.

Despite Syndergaard being scratched from his scheduled start due to illness on Friday, the Angels were boosted by first-inning home runs from Taylor Ward and Shohei Ohtani, while seven relievers combined to hold the White Sox to just three hits in a 5-1 win in the series opener at Guaranteed Rate Field. It was another total team effort for the Angels, who have won six in a row and are 14-7 on the year.

“We feel unbeatable,” said Jimmy Herget, who got the spot start. “We have guys like Ward, [Mike] Trout, Ohtani and [Anthony] Rendon crushing the ball. It gives us a lot of confidence going out to the mound knowing we’re going to put up a lot of runs.”

Ward, who missed the first nine games of the season with a left groin strain, has perhaps been the hottest hitter in baseball since returning on April 16, and he kept it going with a leadoff homer off Chicago starter Lucas Giolito. It was Ward’s fifth homer of the year and fourth in five games since being moved up the leadoff spot on Monday. With his 3-for-5 night against Chicago, Ward has an otherworldly slash line of .404/.517/.830 through 13 games.

“He keeps doing it,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Just quality at-bat after quality at-bat.”

Three batters later, Ohtani took an elevated 3-1 fastball from Giolito out to left-center field — a good sign that he’s starting to come around at the plate after a relatively slow start. Ohtani crushed it, as it had an exit velocity of 108.3 mph, per Statcast. He went 2-for-5 with three runs and is batting .364 (8-for-22) over his last five games to raise his overall slash line to .247/.297/.435 in 20 contests.

“He’s not pulling off the ball,” Maddon said. “When he gets roll-over grounders, it’s never a good sign. But when he hits the ball up the middle, it’s a good sign.”

After Trout beat out an infield single in the sixth, Ohtani reached on a fielder’s choice and scored on an RBI double from Rendon. Ohtani also singled in the eighth, stole second base — his team-leading fourth of the year — and scored on a two-out RBI double from Jared Walsh off lefty Bennett Sousa.

The early two-run lead held up thanks to strong pitching performances from Herget, Austin Warren, Archie Bradley, Aaron Loup, Ryan Tepera and Raisel Iglesias. Herget allowed one run over a career-high three innings, while Warren followed with two scoreless frames. Mike Mayers was the only reliever to scuffle, allowing one hit and hitting a batter in the ninth, but Iglesias came in to clean up to record his sixth save.

“They have a very good lineup, but our bullpen guys, man-for-man, did a great job,” Maddon said. “We had a little trouble at the end. I thought Mayers was throwing the ball really well, but the hit batter created all the stress. Raisel was available, and that was the difference in the game.”

After Herget allowed a leadoff single to Tim Anderson in the first, the Angels didn’t allow another hit until Loup surrendered a two-out single to José Abreu in the seventh. It ended a streak of 18 consecutive batters retired, though Loup immediately bounced back by striking out Luis Robert to end the inning.

“It’s definitely contagious,” Bradley said of the relievers feeding off each other. “We kinda joked about it, but you don’t want to be the one to go in there and screw it up, especially on a day like today with Noah not feeling good. It was a big day for us to step up and make it happen.”

The Angels also made several strong defensive plays, including Trout robbing Abreu of extra bases with a leaping catch near the wall in right-center field in the fourth, and Rendon taking away a hit down the third-base line from Jake Burger in the fifth. Rendon made an incredible stop and throw, while Walsh made a great stretch at first base.

“Our defense was superb,” Maddon said. “Anthony making that play and that throw. Trouty making a nice play in center field. Everything about it. It was just a really well played game by us.”

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