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Steer, McLain boost rookie credentials in win vs. childhood team

ANAHEIM – August 22, 2023 – content by Mark Sheldon,

Growing up in nearby Long Beach, Calif., Reds left fielder Spencer Steer went to several Angels games each season. Garret Anderson was his first favorite player, but that changed when another outfielder came on the scene.

“When Mike Trout got called up, he was my favorite after that,” Steer said before Tuesday’s series opener against the Angels. “It’s really special for me to be playing here, for sure.”

It was Steer who spoiled the long-anticipated return of Trout from the injured list after the superstar missed 38 games with a fractured hand. His RBI double during a three-run fifth inning provided the go-ahead run in Cincinnati’s much-needed 4-3 victory at Angel Stadium to begin a 10-game West Coast road swing.

Trying to keep their postseason hopes strong, the Reds moved to a half-game back of the D-backs for the third National League Wild Card spot and remained four games behind the first-place Brewers in the NL Central race. They are a half-game behind the second-place Cubs.

A two-out gift, created in part by Elly De La Cruz’s speed, boosted the Reds in the top of the fifth inning. With runners on second and third base, De La Cruz hit a routine ground ball toward first base. Rookie Nolan Schanuel appeared to take an eye off the ball to spot De La Cruz and muffed it as Will Benson and TJ Friedl sped home to score two unearned runs.

Next, Steer lined a double toward the left-field corner. Running at 30.6 feet per second, De La Cruz scored from first base.

“Pretty cool moment, first time playing here,” Steer said. “Obviously, I grew up coming to this stadium [as an] Angels fan. I’m lucky Elly was running around the bases there. I don’t think many people score on that ball.”

Reds starting pitcher Graham Ashcraft set a career high with 10 strikeouts over seven innings. Ashcraft gave up three earned runs and five hits, including three solo homers. Back-to-back drives by ex-Reds Brandon Drury and Mike Moustakas in the second and a solo shot by Logan O’Hoppe in the fourth put the club in a two-run deficit.

The Reds’ two-out rally in the fifth became a pivotal boost for Ashcraft, too. He struck out the side — including Trout and Shohei Ohtani — in the bottom half of the inning. 

“It means a lot to have the guys behind me and put those runs up on the board to kind of give me a little push, ‘Hey, let’s go. You’ve got this,’” Ashcraft said. “It definitely put some pep under my step and allowed me to kind of narrow the [strike] zone back in and start filling it up again.”

Steer wasn’t the only local kid who had a moment against his childhood favorites. Matt McLain, who grew up about 10 minutes away from the stadium in Tustin, launched a first-inning home run to right-center field against Angels starter Lucas Giolito. 

“That was incredible,” Reds manager David Bell said. “I think, for Matt, having all the family and friends here, there’s no question it means more. It’s amazing it happened in the first at-bat.”

As McLain’s homer cleared the fence, loud cheers could be heard among his many family and friends in attendance. 

“I guess when you hit a homer, you black out. I didn’t hear too much,” said McLain, who also played college baseball for UCLA. “Playing where I came to watch games is really cool.”

McLain, too, was a fan of Trout as a kid, and he caught a popup from the Angels’ star in the bottom of the first and fielded his third-inning grounder before touching second base and starting a double play.

“It was cool to get it off [his] bat,” McLain said. 

Both Steer and McLain have put together seasons that should garner significant NL Rookie of the Year votes.

Steer leads all NL rookies with 29 doubles and 67 RBIs, and his 120 hits are tied for the lead with Arizona’s Corbin Carroll. Meanwhile, he’s batting .268 with an .812 OPS and 18 homers. 

McLain, who was called up on May 15, is batting .295 with an .873 OPS that leads NL rookies, along with 14 homers and 45 RBIs. 

“We have young players that, they’re not only stepping in and showing what they can do, they’re helping us win really important games,” Bell said of Steer and McLain. “That just says so much about who they are.”

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