Angels beat Pirates as Shohei Ohtani trade speculation hits road

The possibility seems so strangely far away, because Shohei Ohtani has made it somewhat clear that he wants to make a playoff push with these Angels. And yet reminders of a rather weighty Aug. 1 trade deadline have prickled through Angel Stadium across this weekend series.

On Sunday, an innocent idea formed about an hour and a half before game time that the media and PR team should take a commemorative picture together. Heads, initially, reacted with confusion. And then the realization dawned: if the two-way superstar was traded, this could be the last time a large group of Ohtani-covering Japanese media would ever claim Angel Stadium as a home base.

So pictures were taken, before a 7-5 Angels win, and quickly drew over 100,000 views on Twitter after a Times post as fans reacted equivalent to the famous “now why is that?” Brian Windhorst meme.

Of course, there was no sneaky secret that anybody knew. But it was, again, a reminder: an entire ecosystem hangs in the balance before Aug. 1, the very fabric of six years of Shotime frenzy around Angel Stadium threatened. And the responsibility of controlling that balance, ironically, has often fell to Ohtani himself: so essential to winning that the Angels are in some form relying on Ohtani to avoid a skid that would prompt trading Ohtani.

It’s an unspoken pressure that the stoic star has responded to time and again, and he took matters into his own hands to start Sunday’s series finale with the Pirates, lining a Mitch Keller cutter so hard beyond the center-field wall that the homer’s trajectory never eclipsed a 20-degree launch angle.

But, as has been the case more often than not, he was buoyed by explosive help up and down the Angels’ order. In the fifth inning, Andrew Velazquez and Luis Rengifo combined for one of the more unlikely back-to-back homers in recent baseball history, Velazquez notching his first RBI through 26 games.

Nevin went out of his way after a 3-0 loss Saturday to note Zach Neto’s missing presence at the top of the lineup, the rookie shortstop a scratch because of back tightness. But Rengifo — who’d landed in Nevin’s doghouse July 15 after giving a less-than-ideal effort in chasing an errant grounder — provided his own lift on the last game of the homestand.

In the sixth, after the switch-hitting Rengifo hit his first-pitch homer off righty Keller from the left side, he switched to the other side of the box against lefty Angel Perdomo. Conventional. Same-side pitching is often tougher to hit.

Unconventional, however, that he jumped on a first-pitch changeup and roped his second homer off the day off the left-field foul pole. He capped off a banner day with a full-extension snare of an Endy Rodriguez liner at second base to end the eighth.

“Not to go back on an incident, but I think since that first game — when baseball’s taken away from you, you seem to appreciate it a little more,” Nevin said on Friday of pulling Rengifo July 15. “Even though it was for a few innings, I think it was a good moment for all of us.”