Within two hours, Shohei Ohtani’s attractive generational talent was on full display.
Pitching and hitting in the same game for the first time since joining the majors, Ohtani wasted no time in showing why his arrival in the United States three years ago was greeted with such anticipation. The 26-year-old hit 100 miles per hour with his fastball three times atop the no-hitter in the first inning. Then, batting second to the bottom of the first, Ohtani ambushed the first pitch he saw and deposited it well on the seats in the right-field pavilion.
Ohtani finished 1-of-3 at the plate and pitched 4 2/3 innings, allowing three runs (one earned) on two hits and five walks with seven strikeouts. In the process, he pitched stronger than any other starter this season, and he hit a home run stronger than any other hitter. Simply put, the sentence above details an athletic feat that seemed impossible for most of the last century, and the fact that Ohtani accomplished it on the same night, and with a national audience tuned in, represents the most exciting development in the game. have seen in years.
This is the type of player many foresaw when Ohtani officially signed with the Angels in December 2017. It’s pretty much what we saw during the first 10 weeks of the 2018 season, when Ohtani posted a 4-1 record and a 3.10 ERA in nine pitching starts with a batting average of .289 /. 372 / .535 with six home runs in 129 plate appearances. Since then he has not been completely healthy, leaving the baseball world wondering if this grand experiment would be tried again.
The comparisons between Ohtani and Babe Ruth are unrealistically high and obvious. As a rookie in 2018, Ohtani became the first player since Ruth in 1919 to pitch 50 innings and hit 15 home runs in the same season. If the Angels have their way and Ohtani stays healthy, he would become the first player since Ruth (also in 1919) to have at least 400 at-bats and pitch 100 innings in the same year.
Ruth is perhaps the most iconic athlete in American sports history, and Ohtani won’t come close to matching her status there. However, that he is attempting a feat that he has not accomplished in more than a century, means that MLB has a global star on its hands that is unmatched by anything the league has had to offer in quite some time. You can bet this won’t be the last time Sunday night baseball choose to pay a visit to Anaheim this season.
Ohtani has flashed brilliance so often that talent is no longer an issue; the biggest uncertainty remains health. He came out of Sunday’s outing in an erratic fifth inning that ended when he fell in a collision at the plate. The angels said that Ohtani was not pulled due to injury, and that he was “fine” after experiencing widespread pain.
For the Angels, Ohtani’s sustained health and success are critical to ending their six-year playoff drought. The benefits for the game as a whole would be twofold: fans could see Mike Trout, the greatest player of his generation, and Ohtani, a once-in-a-century unicorn, finally compete in the postseason.
Ohtani’s exit to the mound was just the latest of what was an encouraging opening weekend overall for the pitching-hungry Angels. Los Angeles won three of four against the upstart White Sox, getting promising pitching starts from Dylan Bundy and Alex Cobb in the other two wins as well. The bullpen mostly pitched well (despite a failed save by Raisel Iglesias Sunday), a reassuring development after the team led the majors in missed saves a year ago.
After the Angels took extreme caution in devising a regulated approach to Ohtani’s routine during his rookie season, he only pitched on Sundays and never hit when he pitched, or in the days before or after his pitching starts, manager Joe Maddon vowed to remove all the railings this season. The plan is to take a more day-to-day approach and let Ohtani’s feelings dictate how much he rests, with the goal of taking him to the field as often physically as possible.
The result could mean relatively clean health for the two-way star. It will also make Angels fans hold their collective breath with every pitch and swing made.
The 2021 season is only four days old, and we’re a long way from viewing Ohtani’s two-way efforts as a complete success. But, if only for one night, the baseball world got a glimpse of what it could be. If we’re lucky, it won’t be the last.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.