Tanner Baby, high school classmates Patrick Sandoval

CLEVELAND – Guardians freshman Tanner Baby laughed as he recalled himself as a sophomore in high school. He remembers his 5-foot-7 frame and knew there was no way he’d hit puberty yet. So, what would he say if he could go back in time to tell himself that one day he would turn the Majors against former teammate Patrick Sandoval?

“I’d like to say, Dude, you’re crazy,” Pepe said with an enormous grin.

It’s a story any junior or high school gamer would dream of telling. The two Bombers who were second batters in the Mission Viejo (California) high school rotation faced off in the Guardians’ 4-3 victory over the Angels at Progressive Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

“We spoke after the start at Yankee Stadium [last week] And I talked about, ‘Hey, if these are classes, we can go against each other,'” Pepe recalls. “I’m glad we won. But I’m glad we did well.”

The two looked like the dominant pairing any high school team dreams of. Pepe entered the eighth after giving up only one hit. Sandoval only allowed one run. It wasn’t until this frame that either of them had some problems.

Pepe finished his fourth career run after allowing one run on two hits in 7 2/3 innings pitched. Sandoval was charged with three runs (two earned) five strikeouts in a season high 7 2/3 frames. And with their high school coach Chris Aschbach in the stands, it was hard on this day not to reminisce about their baseball days.

Sandoval, a 6-foot-3 lefty, was a much more dropable high school senior who refused USC to sign with the Astros after being selected in the 11th round of the 2015 draft. The hometown Angels eventually acquired him before the “18 trade deadline.” In a trade that sent catcher Martin Maldonado to the Astros.

Pepe said he followed Sandoval’s professional career and even attended a minor league one he started with the Single-A Inland Empire in 2018. Sandoval first reached the Majors in ’19, and has developed into the Angels’ second-best pitcher behind Two-Way. Actress Shuhei Ohtani. He has a 3.22 ERA in eight starts this season after posting a 2.91 ERA in 27 in 22 outings.

“I went to one of those games, watched him and then he went very quickly through the minors,” Pepe said. “So, it was really interesting to watch her, and I kept going with it religiously.”

But once Pepe was drafted by Cleveland in 2021, that call became more frequent.

“I only talk about professional football and things like that,” Sandoval said earlier this week. “He will ask me things about getting ready and recovering. It’s great to see someone grow into what they are now. It’s great.”

“It was essential for me,” said Pepe. “It was nice to be able to answer questions for him, and he would answer some questions from me.”

“I thought it would make a really good college mark,” Sandoval said. “He was short and didn’t really have an arm to drop. He threw slowly but he just knew how to putt. He just didn’t have the frame. Then he hit puberty, and he hit it really well. He’s obviously a stud.”

Pepe thought back to 2015 and remembered himself the way Sandoval did. But Pepe also recalled watching Sandoval that year, factoring in how strong his soon-to-be professional player would be – a level he had yet to unlock. But little did he know that he would follow in Sandoval’s footsteps.

Since then, Pepe has added massive speed to his geyser, now topping out at 99 mph. He flew through the Guardians’ Minor League system as the team’s No. 5 prospect, making just 28 starts over two seasons before reaching the major leagues. And on Sunday, he was able to best his former teammate, whom he has looked up to for nearly a decade, on baseball’s biggest stage.

“It was a proud moment for me,” Sandoval said. “It was great, but it was nice to see him hit like that against someone else.”

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