It is now late June, which means if you can’t at least feign excitement about a leadoff inside-the-park home run in an interleague baseball game, you are staring down a summer of relatively slim pickings, VAR-marred World Cup soccer notwithstanding. Please, before you reduce yourself to hunting for Bears OTA updates, take a moment to enjoy this short highlight of a by-God inside-the-park home run, hit by Tommy La Stella of the Angels, one of the more interesting success stories of this season:
This was the fifth leadoff inside-the-park job in Angels franchise history, and just the third in the history of all interleague play:
It was also La Stella’s 16th home run of the season, which incidentally is five more than he’s hit in the other five years of his MLB career, combined. Partly this surge comes down to opportunity—La Stella is on pace for 580 or so at-bats in 2019, when his previous career high was 319, during his rookie season. La Stella has always been a fine hitter—former manager Joe Maddon nicknamed him “3 a.m.” because he said La Stella could “wake up at 3 a.m. and hit anyone”—and now, given an everyday role with the Angels, he’s already up to 1.8 bWAR, by far the most he’s put up across any full season. La Stella has gone from a part-time player with the Cubs to a finalist for a starting spot on the American League All-Star team. He told the Los Angeles Times earlier this month that an All-Star appearance was nowhere on his radar:
He had detached enough from baseball news that it took him by surprise when an Angels communications staff member told him no other second baseman in the American League had received as many votes in the first ballot update.
“To be honest, I never really had a reason to pay attention to [voting],” La Stella said.
It was bad luck for La Stella that he was stuck behind the electric Javy Báez in Chicago, where barring injury he was just never going to see regular playing time. Handed the starting job in Anaheim, La Stella has blossomed into one of the most productive leadoff hitters in all of baseball, and in his age-30 season. La Stella’s overall play has been excellent, and he’s a huge reason for the respectable baseball the Angels have played so far this season. But it’s those impressive dingers that will put him in the midsummer classic, whether they clear the outfield wall or not.