The Los Angeles Angels dropped the final game of their three-game set against the Tampa Bay Rays, but thanks in part to a late-game home run from the red-hot Taylor Ward, there was at least some added drama.
Even the best lineups in Major League Baseball can be stymied on any given day, and some get shut down by elite pitching.
Shohei Ohtani turned in six innings of one-run baseball that included five strikeouts, but Shane McClanahan was flat-out dominant for the Rays. He exited Wednesday’s game with a 2-0 lead after seven shutout innings highlighted by 11 punchouts.
But with one out and a runner on first in the bottom of the eighth, manager Joe Maddon called Andrew Velazquez back to the dugout and pinch-hit Taylor Ward to face Andrew Kittredge. It proved to be another correct move for Maddon, as Ward sent a two-strike sinker into the left-field seats to tie the game.
WARDY BOY TIES UP THE BALLGAME! #GoHalos pic.twitter.com/YAzyV5g5Xk
— Los Angeles Angels (@Angels) May 12, 2022
It was the Angels’ first game-tying pinch-hit home run since Kendrys Morales’ two-run home run against the Kansas City Royals on Sept. 14, 2012.
Ward’s pinch-hit home run was also the first for the Angels since Jared Walsh’s solo shot against Cleveland in 2019 and before that home run, Ward was hitless in career pinch-hit opportunities.
He now ranks among MLB’s best with an OPS+ of 255 while batting .367/.490/.709.
Reason for Ward’s success at the plate
Ward was a highly-touted catching prospect when the Angels drafted him in the first round, 26th overall, of the 2015 MLB Draft out of California State University, Fresno.
Ward advanced fairly quickly through the Angels’ Minor League system, winning multiple accolades along the way, such as being named an MiLB.com Angels Organization All-Star twice, a Pioneer League Mid-Season All-Star, and participated in the 2016 Arizona Fall League Rising Stars game.
He ended up making his MLB debut on August 14, 2018, but the success did not follow. In 40 games, the rookie hit just .178/.245/.333. These struggles continued into 2019 and 2020 before he finally started producing just above a league-average level in 2021.
Although Ward has changed his batted ball profile since his debut, he says his breakout has been fueled by a change in his mindset and approach at the plate.
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