ANAHEIM -- When Mike Trout got off to a relatively slow start this year, there was a widespread feeling around the game that it was bound to happen, that he couldn't possibly live up to what he achieved in a 2012 rookie season for the ages.
What seemed to be overlooked was the fact that Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle would have been challenged in their primes to duplicate the season Trout, turning 22 on Aug. 7, had produced while winning the American League Rookie of the Year Award.
All of a sudden, Trout having found his stroke, his confidence is soaring again. The perpetual boyish smile and swagger are back. A season resembling his rookie numbers -- .326 batting average, 30 homers, 83 RBIs, 129 runs scored, 49 steals -- is not out of the question for the Angels' star. Not at all.
Since bottoming out at .252 on April 29, Trout is hitting .351, raising his average to .293. His .931 OPS is within reach of his .963 from last season. He is on pace to hit more doubles, triples and homers than he did in a rookie season that was delayed by almost a month as he recovered from a springtime illness at Triple-A Salt Lake.
Heading into Wednesday afternoon's series finale against the Mariners, Trout ranks among the AL leaders in homers (nine), RBIs (34), runs (31), slugging (.558), steals (nine) and go-ahead RBIs (nine). He is on pace for mammoth numbers.
"I'm not getting myself out the way I was earlier," Trout said. "I'm more comfortable, feeling more like myself."
We can pretty much dismiss any notions of a sophomore jinx striking down the kid from Millville, N.J., who looks a lot like a young Mantle and carries a number of The Mick's mannerisms to the field.
For those back home on the East Coast catching up on the late baseball news from Tuesday night, Jersey's most exciting native son since Bruce Springsteen's glory days became the youngest AL player in history to produce a cycle, beating a youthful Alex Rodriguez to the feat by two weeks.
Trout's cycle sequence was single, triple, double and home run. The final piece was something to behold.
In the eighth inning of what would be a 12-0 rout of the Mariners, Trout went down to send an inside fastball rocketing over the wall in right-center field. At Angel Stadium. On a typically cool spring night in marine-layer land, with no help from Mother Nature.
Watching in awe was Seattle manager Eric Wedge.
"That last pitch he hit for a home run, he took it off the ground and drove it the other way," Wedge said. "He looks stronger this year, but he's a great athlete. Just a young, special player."
What Trout did was just as impressive as the light show Miguel Cabrera, Detroit's Triple Crown king, put on Sunday night in Texas on national television. Unfortunately, much of the land had drifted to sleep well before the first cycle of the season was even a possibility.
Actually, Josh Hamilton, Trout's teammate, was the early cycle candidate with a homer and triple in his first two at-bats. Trout typically was too engrossed in the game to give the cycle a thought until it was right in front of him.
"I didn't really think of it until about the eighth inning," Trout said. "I'm in the outfield, [and] I'm like, 'Man, I got a triple, double and a single.' And I got to 2-0 [against reliever Lucas Luetge] and I said, 'Hey, if I'm going to hit one, it's going to be this pitch.' So I hit it and it went out."
Trout and his family were on Twitter in the afterglow, expressing exhilaration and amazement while thanking fans for their support.
Appreciate all the love ! Awesome night!#angels- Mike Trout (@Trouty20) May 22, 2013
One proud Mama!!! Standing ovation at the Big A !!! TROUTSTANDING !!!- Debbie Trout (@DebbieTrout27) May 22, 2013
Cycles are about as rare as no-hitters, an element of good fortune coming into play. Bengie Molina, not exactly swift afoot, owns a cycle. Babe Ruth, Mays, Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr. do not. The great Cabrera also is without one.
D-backs second baseman Aaron Hill cycled twice last season in the space of 11 days, on June 18 and June 29.
"Wow," Hill said this spring. "When you hear names like that ... it makes you realize how special it is. I haven't really reflected much on it. I don't even know how to respond when I'm asked about it."
If ever a player was born to produce cycles, it's Trout. He has blazing speed, a line-drive stroke and power to all fields. If he wasn't a plus-plus runner, he wouldn't have had the single, beating a throw to first by a fraction to get it started.
The record for cycles in a career is three, shared by Babe Herman (1930s), Bob Meusel (1920s) and John Reilly (1883-90).
Herman, in 1931 with the Brooklyn Robins, joins Hill as the only players with two in one season. The Rangers' Adrian Beltre is the only other active player with two cycles. Ten Hall of Famers, including Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and George Brett, had a pair of cycles. Mantle had one, in 1957.
"Just seeing his talent, you have to really shake yourself, because he's 21 years old," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said of Trout. "If I'm a betting man, I've got to believe there's another cycle in his career somewhere."
Some of us envision four -- or more -- cycles in Trout's future. He is one of a kind.