Trout and Ohtani in October? Six players who can help the Angels (finally) get to the playoffs

    ESPN baseball reporter. Covered the L.A. Rams for ESPN from 2016 to 2018 and the L.A. Angels for MLB.com from 2012 to 2016.

ANAHEIM, Calif. — A light-colored cowboy hat sits atop the bat rack in the Los Angeles Angels’ dugout, a temporary prize for any player who sends a baseball over an outfield fence. The home-run ritual was the brainchild of Tim Buss, a coaching assistant Angels manager Joe Maddon calls his “VP of stuff,” and it has quickly become the team’s most cherished in-game tradition.

The hat — an off-white Cody James model with black trim — was recently outfitted with decals to commemorate every one of these celebrations and is now decorated with 44 of them, representative of the Angels’ major league lead in home runs. Four were added on Tuesday alone, amid a 12-0 rout punctuated by Reid Detmers’ improbable no-hitter against the visiting Tampa Bay Rays. Mike Trout was graced with the hat upon re-entering Angel Stadium’s third-base dugout after his second-inning home run, then scampered down the steps and bounced through a parade of high-fives. Chad Wallach did the same in the third, then Trout again in the eighth, then Anthony Rendon moments later — while batting left-handed for the first time in his career against soft-tossing outfielder Brett Phillips.

It’s a ritual akin to the Boston Red Sox’s laundry cart celebration, and a tribute — coincidentally — to former Angels owner Gene Autry and his iconic white cowboy hat.

It also seems to represent something else — that maybe this year is different.

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