ANAHEIM — The Thumb Of Baseball was wrapped up tight Saturday afternoon, its owner still bemused by its condition.
Since 2011 Mike Trout has made 3,764 plate appearances for the Angels. He has thrown himself against walls. On a nightly basis he has launched himself from zero to 60 in 30 feet. He has scored 636 runs and stolen 153 bases.
Baseball seemed powerless to hurt him.
Then he barreled into second base at Marlins Park last Sunday and came up yelling.
“I knew I’d messed it up pretty good,” Trout said, four days after his first surgery.
He has never been on the disabled list before, but this tear of the UCL ligament in his left thumb will keep him in the dugout for at least five weeks or until he can play without thinking about it anymore.
This supported people who argue that (A) baseball doesn’t belong in Miami and (B) the head-first slide doesn’t belong in the game. There was even some loose talk last week about banning it altogether.
This is the same mentality that would bar pitchers from hitting, that applauds when they leave games arbitrarily after 80 pitches, and that would bubble-wrap a sport that puts unnatural demands on a body and is played with a speeding white bullet.
Some of those observers also had Trout on their fantasy rosters. His 1.203 OPS is the best in baseball by a margin of .081, and he also leads in on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Has a defending MVP ever been the most improved player?
Trout will resume his spree with extra protection on his thumb. He doesn’t plan to stop sliding with his head.
He had led off the fifth inning with a walk, off Miami’s Jose Urena, and stole second.
“It was a freak thing,” he said. “Looking back at it, the only reason I looked up is that I saw the ball bounce up. I thought I was on the bag. Then I hit the bag. I went back into the outfield later and the pain went away for a while, but it just felt weak.
“I got back in the dugout and tried to swing a bat, but I told the trainers I thought I’d mess it up even more. They said, don’t even try. I couldn’t sleep, and the next day I couldn’t even move it A lot of things went through my head, a lot of emotions. It was tough. And you can ask people, I was pretty nervous before the surgery.”
It was a much smaller deal than Trout had feared, and that night he was in the Angels dugout, watching Albert Pujols chase that 600th home run.
Trout had missed five games in May as he waited for a hamstring to settle down. He had missed 16 games the past four seasons.
Josh Hamilton had the same injury when he was here in 2014, and Andrelton Simmons had it last year. Bryce Harper has overcome it, and Dustin Pedroia soldiered on through an entire season with a UCL tear. And, of course, the Clippers’ Chris Paul got his UCL against Oklahoma City in January, trying to step around a screen.
Surely your Little League coach told you to slide with your feet. As Trout said, it just doesn’t get you there as quickly,…