Mike Trout lifted his head to watch a routine fly ball in Monday's first inning, then put his head down to jog to the dugout while the final out was recorded. At that point, Trout said, "I thought I got hit by a line drive."
Upon reaching third base, he knew something wasn't right. As he retreated into the clubhouse, he feared that he might have ruptured his Achilles tendon. The prognosis wasn't that bad, but it was sobering nonetheless.
Trout, the Los Angeles Angels' star center fielder and arguably the game's best all-around player, has a Grade 2 strain of his right calf.
He was placed on the injured list Tuesday and will miss an estimated six to eight weeks.
"I've never felt anything like this before," Trout said. "I felt a pop."
Trout began the 2021 season with the best 30-game start of his illustrious career. He had slowed down of late but was still batting .333 with eight home runs and 18 RBIs through his first 36 games. His 1.090 OPS and 2.5 FanGraphs wins above replacement still led the majors.
Even with Trout's contributions, and Shohei Ohtani emerging as a two-way force, the Angels entered Tuesday's home game against the Cleveland Indians with a minus-44 run-differential that was tied with the Pittsburgh Pirates for the second worst in their sport, a product mostly of their league-worst 5.29 ERA.
"It's really unfortunate, obviously," Angels manager Joe Maddon said of Trout's injury. "You never wanna hear that about any of your players, especially a player to the caliber of Michael. The way I'm looking at it is this -- other guys are gonna get opportunities right now to help us ascend into this race properly, and by the time Mike gets back, he's ready to go and really fresh into August, September and the playoffs. It's difficult. I've been around it before, I've lost good players before in races, and then they've come back at the right time and all of a sudden things work out really well. He'll be one of the best August acquisitions in history."
The Angels' two best prospects, Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh, are outfielders currently with the team's Triple-A affiliate. But Adell, 22, struggled mightily in the majors last year, and Marsh, 23, was among the many who were hurt by the lack of a minor league season in 2020. The Angels, Maddon said, won't call either of them up until they are certain of their readiness.
Taylor Ward, a former catcher who had previously logged just one professional inning at center field, will be the one mostly replacing Trout. Juan Lagares, who won a Gold Glove as the New York Mets' center fielder in 2014, will also see time there. Ward, Ohtani, Anthony Rendon, Jared Walsh and Justin Upton made up the first five spots in the Angels' lineup, respectively, in Tuesday's 6-5 loss to the Indians.
Trout, a three-time American League MVP, has missed extended time in four of the past five seasons. He missed 39 games after tearing a ligament in his left thumb in 2017, then missed 19 games in 2018 with an injury to his right wrist and the last 19 games of the 2019 season after undergoing foot surgery. If Trout stays within the current timeline, he'll miss somewhere between 39 and 50 games, with the back end of that window keeping him out until after the All-Star break. Since his first full season in 2012, the Angels are 34 games over .500 with Trout in the lineup and 25 games under .500 with Trout out of it.
"I'm really crushed about it," Trout said. "Obviously I wanna be out there with the guys."
Trout's ailment comes at a time when injuries continue to mount throughout the sport, particularly of the soft-tissue variety. Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Byron Buxton, George Springer, Juan Soto and Michael Conforto are among the notable position players who have missed time with similar injuries this season.
Some of that might have been caused by the unprecedented circumstances of the past 14 months, which included shutting down spring training because of the COVID-19 pandemic, ramping up quickly for a 60-game season, then training again and proceeding with a full season the following spring. Trout also noted the Angels' travel schedule on Sunday, which consisted of a coast-to-coast flight from Boston to L.A., a one-hour bus ride back to the ballpark, then the standard commute home.
"We're in a plane or a bus for nine hours, and then we gotta get up and play a game the next day," Trout said. "It's a crazy schedule. I don't know if that had something to do with it, but it's a long season and it's a grind."