WASHINGTON — On a night that was supposed to be a showcase for the transcendent talents of two of baseball's brightest young stars — Angels center fielder Mike Trout, 22, and Washington Nationals left fielder Bryce Harper, 21 — two old guys ruled.
First baseman Albert Pujols, the 34-year-old slugger with the heavy legs, made a nifty defensive play to cut down a run in the fourth inning and got frisky on the bases in the eighth, sparking a four-run rally with, of all things, a stolen base, his first since July 7.
And Raul Ibanez, the 41-year-old designated hitter who has looked every bit his age this season with the exception of a few clutch hits, delivered a two-out, pinch-hit, three-run double in the eighth to lift the Angels to a 4-2 come-from-behind victory in Nationals Park.
"I don't think about stuff like that, but it's a really valid point," Ibanez said, when asked if there was any irony in the fact that he upstaged the first Trout-Harper matchup. "Those guys are two young studs, and Trout is possibly the best player I've ever seen in this game.
"But these guys make me feel young. I have five kids, all 12 and under, and I'm the biggest kid in the house, so I feel right at home around these guys who are 22, 23, 24 and 25. It's a lot of fun. They keep me knowing what songs are good, so I can always stay young listening to their music."
Ibanez had a similar hit April 12, a score-tying, three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning against the New York Mets, but he had only two hits in 25 at-bats since, his average falling to .148 with 14 strikeouts, when he stepped to the plate against right-hander Tyler Clippard in the eighth Monday night.
Manager Matt Williams had three left-handers in his bullpen, but he stuck with Clippard, whose effective changeup has helped him limit left-handers to a .182 career average.
But Ibanez, who was three for nine with two home runs against Clippard, hit a changeup to deep left-center field to clear the bases and end a 1-1 tie.
"Raul has been around the block, he knows the batter's box, and he has the experience," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "Even though he's not swinging the bat well this month, you can see he's still dangerous and can do what he did tonight. It was a huge hit for us. It was nice to see one fall for him."
The Angels were trailing, 1-0, going into the eighth, and their offense was in deep hibernation, with only three runs and 20 hits in 99 at-bats (.202) in the previous 28 innings. Players seemed to be pressing to make up for the loss of injured cleanup batter Josh Hamilton and leadoff batter Kole Calhoun.
Then Pujols reached on shortstop Ian Desmond's fielding error to open the eighth. With Clippard still in the stretch, Pujols took off for second base without Clippard even noticing, and he beat catcher Jose Lobaton's throw.
"I knew if I could get a good jump, I could steal the bag," Pujols said. "You have to take a chance in this game. You can't play this sport scared."
The stolen base eliminated a force play at second base and allowed Pujols to take third on Howie Kendrick's one-out infield single. Brennan Boesch popped out, but Erick Aybar hit a score-tying single to right field, and Chris Iannetta walked to load the bases for Ibanez.
Pujols also helped pitcher Garrett Richards minimize damage in the fourth when, with runners on first and third, he made a barehand grab of Anthony Rendon's chopper and made an off-balance throw to the plate to nail Harper.
"I'm a two-time Gold Glover," Pujols said. "Any time I can help my team, whether it's stealing a base, making a play, hitting a home run, getting a hit, getting hit by a pitch — any way you can contribute to a win, that's the most important thing."
Twitter: @MikeDiGiovannaCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun