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Ohtani hits MLB-best 36th HR as Halos stay hot

ANAHEIM — After the Angels were shut out for just the fourth time this season in a frustrating loss on Saturday, two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani quickly made sure it wouldn’t happen for a second straight game.

Ohtani crushed his MLB-leading 36th homer in the first inning Sunday to spark a big day from the offense, as Luis Rengifo also went deep twice and Andrew Velazquez hit his first blast of the season in a 7-5 win over the Pirates at Angel Stadium. It completed a solid homestand for the Angels, who went 6-3 to improve to 51-49.

“It was a nice stretch at home, absolutely,” Angels manager Phil Nevin said. “The guys are responding well. They understand everything’s still in front of us.”

They won consecutive series over the Yankees and Pirates after losing two of three to the Astros out of the All-Star break. The Angels will now look to ride that momentum into their critical three-city road trip to Detroit, Toronto and Atlanta with the Aug. 1 Trade Deadline looming. The Halos are four games back of the Blue Jays for the third and final AL Wild Card spot, making their three-game set in Toronto a crucial one for a team that is looking to avoid being a seller, and in turn, not move Ohtani.

“It’s like the playoffs right now for us,” Velazquez said. “That’s why, going into this road trip, winning this series was very important.”

Ohtani, who has been the subject of trade rumors if the Angels fall out of contention, is set to start the opener of that series in Toronto. He showed off his immense power Sunday with a low liner for a solo blast in the first inning off Pirates right-hander Mitch Keller. Ohtani worked the count full before smacking a cutter over the center-field fence for his first homer since Monday. It left the bat at a low launch angle of 19 degrees and went a projected 410 feet, according to Statcast. He’s on pace to hit 58 homers this season.

“I don’t know if I’ve seen a ball hit like that — a golf ball maybe,” Nevin said. “I thought he lined out to center. I really did. Or maybe it gets over his head or hits the wall. But it disappeared into the trees. Every day, he does something different to impress you.”

His solo shot set the tone for a bounce-back performance from the offense and tied the game after lefty Tyler Anderson gave up a solo homer to Bryan Reynolds in the opening frame. The Angels took the lead in the second on an RBI single from Eduardo Escobar and pulled away with a four-run fifth.

“It was one big inning for us and that’s kind of been the MO for us the last week as we’ve been playing well,” Nevin said. “It’s why last night, when we left them loaded with nobody out, it was a big one. But we responded really well.”

Velazquez and Rengifo connected on back-to-back blasts to open the inning before Taylor Ward added an RBI single and Matt Thaiss delivered a sacrifice fly. Rengifo gave the Angels an insurance run with a solo shot off lefty reliever Angel Perdomo in the sixth. It marked Rengifo’s third career multihomer game and the second time he homered from each side of the plate.

He was the last Angel to accomplish that feat when he did it on Sept. 16, 2022, against the Mariners. Just like last season, Rengifo has been heating up in the second half. He’s slashing .302/.388/.674 with five homers and eight RBIs in 15 games in July.

“The most important thing right now is to try to help the team win and do my job,” Rengifo said. “We really feel good as a team. We just have to stay together. We just need to keep winning games. Getting to the playoffs is our goal.”

Those extra runs turned out to be key, as Anderson went back out for the seventh at 86 pitches and a six-run lead, but he gave up a single, a double and a walk before being removed for reliever Jacob Webb. A run scored on an errant throw back to Webb from Thaiss before Carlos Santana roped a two-run double to make it a two-run game. But the Angels shut it down the rest of the way with Carlos Estévez getting his 23rd save with a scoreless ninth.

“It meant a lot, especially with how we finished the first half,” Estévez said. “We found a way to turn it on during the homestand. We feel really good.”

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