ANAHEIM, Calif. – There was a moment in the Chicago White Sox-Los Angeles Angels game on Sunday that would have passed as nondescript subtlety had it not been for the obvious limitations on the definition of Major League Baseball. It was the start of the third inning. Shohei Ohtani made the final in the second, a tough line-out to midfield, so he quickly retreated to the dugout, dropped his helmet, picked up his glove, and jogged back to the hill. On the way there, he noticed his back pocket was hanging out, so he picked himself up to put it back in and shoved part of his jersey into his pants before stepping on the elastic to warm up again.
It felt like a little league.
There was a similar boost throughout the night when 26-year-old Ohtani did what hasn’t been done in 118 years.
Ohtani would throw and hit and make his talent shine without unnecessary restrictions. Then he threw a pitch of 101 mph in the top of the first and hit a pitch of 115 mph in the bottom of the first and it felt like nothing else mattered. Baseball was everything again even on the fourth night of the year, triggering the kind of organic joy that new rules or different baseballs cannot duplicate.
The way it ended – Ohtani hobbled off the field, his left ankle tender after absorbing a cleat from Jose Abreu, White Sox’s first baseman – was a sobering reminder of how fragile this could be.
Angels manager Joe Maddon has emphasized since spring training that Ohtani is taking his career into his own hands and removing unnecessary restrictions.
“The rules are – there will be no rules,” Maddon said in February.
It paved the way for Sunday, the first time since 1903 that a pitcher fought in second place on the line-up. This was evidenced by the way the top of the fifth inning played out, and Ohtani faced Yoan Moncada, the bases were loaded, the order wavered and the pitch neared 90.
The decision had nothing to do with keeping Ohtani’s bat in the line-up, considering he had reached the final in the previous half. And it wasn’t the result of someone not being ready in the bullpen considering how long Steve Cishek had warmed up. It was a lot easier than that.
“Did you see the stuff he had?” Maddon asked – rhetorically of course – after the Angels’ 7-4 victory.
Ohtani, who admittedly loved the return of fans to the ballpark, was “really grateful” that Maddon had left him longer than most of the other managers.
“I wanted to get out of the traffic jam and prove to everyone that Joe’s decision was the right one,” Ohtani said through his interpreter, “but I couldn’t.”
Had Angels catcher Max Stassi corrected the splinter Moncada swung through for the third stroke, there would not have been that late first base throw that would not have prompted Abreu to come over and score the bond run, which it would not have left Ohtani in a vulnerable position while covering the home plate.
Ohtani said he felt “good” after the game, adding that the impact “wasn’t as bad as it actually looked”.
The Angels won’t put him on the lineup on Monday, but the incident apparently won’t make them hesitate to continue using him aggressively.
“Everything we thought he could be,” said Maddon Ohtani for the first time in his major league career in the same game. “That’s the complete baseball player – throw 100, hit it well over 100, hit it well over 400 feet. I mean, we talked about that. He just needed the opportunity to do it … I think he felt himself freed, he felt free. He was out there playing baseball. “
Shohei Ohtani knocks out Yoan Moncada, but the ball passes the catcher and hits two runs after Ohtani was hit by a collision on the plate.
Ohtani’s rare talent was best captured by this astonishing first-inning value: his fastball for Adam Eaton (officially 100.6 mph) was the fastest pitch of any starting pitch this season, and his 451-foot home race ahead Dylan Cease (with an exit speed of 115.2 mph) was the hardest-hit homer of the season by any player, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
There isn’t much question about Ohtani offensively. From 2018 to 2019 he fought 792 records against .286 / .351 / .532 and then scored five home runs in 13 spring training games in 2021. The concern revolves around Ohtani’s pitching. He had only accumulated 79 2/3 innings since his amazing 2016 season in Japan, and many of his recent outings have shown an inability to consistently throw strikes. Then came Sunday, the …
Eight pitches threw at least 100 mph, more than he’d amassed in 12 previous major league starts.
Two strikeouts from Yermin Mercedes, who had a record eight hits in his first eight bats of the season (one of them came on three consecutive sliders, Ohtani’s third-best pitch).
Four base runners through the first four innings against a line-up that is among the best in the American League.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone who is that good at either thing,” White Sox manager Tony La Russa said ahead of the game.
“Oh, he’s bad,” added White Sox supplier Leury Garcia afterwards.
Ohtani came from Japan with a promise to become the sport’s first two-way player since Babe Ruth stopped throwing and then teased us about two exciting months in 2018. What followed was surgery by Tommy John, a rare knee surgery and 2020 nightmare season that season included an ERA of 37.80 and a batting average of 0.154. Ohtani attacked on purpose the following off-season. He trained at Driveline, revised his diet, changed his strength training program, and got into more playful situations to fix inconsistent delivery and irregular swing.
By the time he took to the field for his pitching debut on Sunday, the excitement had reached a fever level. Maddon’s aggressive approach fueled it, Ohtani’s dynamic spring fueled it, and MLB took advantage of it. The industry is obsessed with the desire to create more excitement, and Ohtani can potentially do it more than any other player. So the answer to whether the Angels should try to use Ohtani as a two-way player has always been “natural” – as long as he can stay healthy.
Such talent should not be held back.
The angels clearly agree.