Taylor Ward hits grand slam, falls single shy of cycle

ANAHEIM — It’s hard to find a hotter hitter in baseball than Angels right fielder Taylor Ward right now.

Ward has been off to a blistering start offensively this season and nearly hit for the cycle in a 9-5 win over the Guardians on Wednesday, falling just a single short of the accomplishment. But he more than made up for it, as he went 3-for-4 with a double in the first, a grand slam in the second, a walk in the fourth and a triple in the sixth to back Shohei Ohtani, who pitched five innings and allowed two runs to pick up his second win.

Incredibly, Ward became just the second player in the Modern Era with a double, a triple, a grand slam and four runs in a game, joining Roger Maris in 1958, according to Stats Inc. Ward, 28, is batting an astounding .395/.531/.816 with four homers, two doubles and nine RBIs through his first 11 games this season after missing eight games with a strained left groin.

“Watching him from the on-deck circle, I just get the vibe he’s going to get a hit every time,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara.

The former first-round pick in 2015 has been one of the biggest surprises in baseball and has strengthened the Angels’ star-studded lineup that also includes Mike Trout, Ohtani, Anthony Rendon and Jared Walsh. Ward’s starting job didn’t become secure until veteran Justin Upton was designated for late assignment in Spring Training, but now Ward’s been a major part of an Angels offense that leads the Majors with 95 runs scored and is second with 25 homers.

“It’s fun to be a part of,” Trout said. “He comes in and works hard and keeps his routine and trusts it. And it’s paying off in the field right now. I think his mindset has really helped him.”

Ward came up to the plate on the seventh with a chance to become just the 10th player in AL/NL history to hit for a cycle with a grand slam. But he flied out to right on a first-pitch slider from lefty Logan Allen and didn’t get another chance to hit in the eighth.

“I was just thinking about it too much,” Ward said. “I got out of my plan and kind of popped it. I wish I would’ve taken that pitch and battled with him a little more.”

Ward was moved up to the leadoff spot in the lineup on Monday because of his hot start, as the Angels moved down Ohtani to the No. 2 spot in the order. Ward responded by homering twice on Monday and also went 1-for-4 with a run scored on Tuesday.

He sparked a two-run rally in the first with a leadoff double off Guardians right-hander Zach Plesac after Ohtani allowed a two-run homer to José Ramírez in the top half. Ward came up to the plate again in the second with the bases loaded and delivered his second career grand slam to put the Angels up by four runs.

“Ward is really setting the tone right now, my gosh,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “The grand slam really put us on the right side of things.”

Ward showed his patience in the fourth, drawing his 11th walk in 11 games. The Angels eventually loaded the bases that inning, scoring a run on an RBI single from Walsh that saw Ohtani get caught in a rundown between third and home.

The possibility of a cycle became much more realistic with Ward’s triple in the sixth off Allen. Ward drove an 0-1 cutter to deep center and Myles Straw couldn’t handle it, allowing Ward to reach third for his third career triple.

“Once I realized it wasn’t out of the ballpark, I turned it on,” Ward said. “I should probably have busted out of there a little bit. Once I saw it kick, I turned it on, but I wasn’ t thinking about the cycle at that point.”

And while Ward lamented not getting a single in his final at-bat, he said he’ll learn from his experience and not put excess pressure on himself in future situations. He’s credited a change in his mental approach for his recent success, as he showed flashes of it last year, when he hit .250/.332/.435 with eight homers and 33 RBIs in 65 games, but now he’s starting to put it all together.

“Honestly, it’s something I feel like should’ve already been happening, but I’m here now,” Ward said. “And I’m blessed to be here and just want to keep the blinders on and stay focused on this season. “

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