TEMPE, Ariz. — Flush with the security that comes with a forthcoming World Series ring and a $245 million contract, Anthony Rendon isn’t afraid to admit what’s often left unsaid by less accomplished peers.
Baseball, hard enough on its own, can become unbearable with the weight of expectations.
“If you don’t live up to somebody’s standards, you get hammered,” he said on a recent morning from the relative tranquility of Los Angeles Angels camp. “Well, this game is not easy. There are 29 other teams, and less than 1% of the world is playing at the highest level, all supposed to be here.
“It’s not an easy game to win.”
His greatest teammate knows that all too well.
Mike Trout has not appeared in a playoff game in six seasons, has never won one, and in collecting three American League MVP awards and forcing his way into the pantheon of all-time greats has also served to exemplify his sport’s most aggravating qualities.
Rarely does the best team win its ultimate prize; rarer still does the best player — who can’t control if or even when he’ll impact a game — prevail in the final game of the year.
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Once part of the game’s beauty, this concept seems to hold it back in an era when Major League Baseball often fails to connect with and engage the casual fan. The odious arguments that nonetheless enthrall NFL and NBA enthusiasts — regarding championship rings, impossible comparisons of single-named icons like LeBron and Michael and Kobe — do not transfer to the diamond.
So Trout, whose 1.000 career OPS ranks eighth all-time, and who at 28 owns seven MVP or runner-up finishes, has nonetheless never come close to the game’s grandest stage.
It is not for lack of desire personally, or globally.
“For what he has done for the game on a personal level, and what he has accomplished for the fans, everybody who watches would want to see that,” says Rendon. “For the game of baseball, it would be tremendous for him to get to that point.”
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Rendon’s presence won’t guarantee that. But it will significantly help.
Can the offseason addition of Anthony Rendon (right) help Mike Trout (left) and the Los Angeles Angels go deep into the postseason? (Photo: Darron Cummings, AP)
The Angels finished 72-90 last season and haven’t had a winning record since 2015. At times, it seems that as Trout adds sublime flourishes to his masterpiece career — did you know his on-base percentage has been no worse than .438 each of the past four years? — his team only founders more.
A barrage of pitching injuries, a series of quick-fix veteran acquisitions that have flopped and the tragic death last summer of starting pitcher Tyler Skaggs are just a sampling of the club’s recent woes.
In Rendon, the Angels get an elite defender at third base and a doubles machine at the plate, a man who produced 6.7 Wins Above Replacement in an epic platform season.
And for what it’s worth, they get an even-keeled presence who knows the perils — and now the glories — of October baseball.
Rendon’s seventh and final season with the Washington Nationals culminated in that franchise’s first championship, the result of a frenetic five-month tear that included a harrowing romp through the playoffs that belied the club’s 12-5 October record.
Rendon was phenomenal in the regular season and better beyond it, finishing third in NL MVP voting before bludgeoning playoff foes with a 1.003 OPS and three exquisitely timed home runs, all coming in games the Nationals faced elimination.
The playoff run was bookended by a pair of borderline absurd victories, the first an NL wild-card victory in which the Nationals toppled the Milwaukee Brewers and All-Star reliever Josh Hader, the winning run scampering home when the baseball took a physics-defying right turn on Juan Soto’s game-tying two-run single, enabling the go-ahead run to score.
It ended when 36-year-old Howie Kendrick dented the right-field foul pole at Minute Maid Park, just your garden-variety go-ahead two-run homer in the seventh inning of World Series Game 7.
“That happened,” Rendon said, musing on the whole month. “The ball kicks back on the right fielder, on Soto’s ball. What kind of hop was that? Whether it was one little rock on the field, or the seam of the grass, the ball has to roll your way at some point in time. It just happened to roll our way last year, and our pitching was amazing.
“A ball has to land on the foul line, or has to hit the base, Howie Kendrick, foul pole, that won us the World Series. It’s unbelievable.”
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