ANAHEIM, Calif. – There was a moment in Sunday’s game between the Chicago White Sox and the Los Angeles Angels that would have passed as an indescribable subtlety were it not for the obvious limitations that Major League Baseball has come to define. It was the beginning of the third inning. Shohei Ohtani made the final out in the second, a hard lineout to center field, so he quickly retreated to the dugout, removed his helmet, picked up his glove and trotted back to the mound. On his way there, he noticed his back pocket was hanging down, so he hurried to put it away and tucked some of his sweater into his pants before stepping on the rubber to start heating up again.
It felt like a little league.
Throughout the night, as 26-year-old Ohtani did what had not been done in 118 years, a similar buoyancy invaded.
Ohtani was going to pitch and hit and let his talents shine through without unnecessary restraints. He then threw a 101 mph pitch at the top of the first and hit a 115 mph pitch at the bottom of the first, and it felt like nothing else mattered. Baseball, even on the fourth night of the year, was all over again, unleashing the kind of organic joy that can’t be duplicated with new rules or different baseballs.
The way it ended, with Ohtani limping off the field, his left ankle sore after absorbing a cue from White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu, was a sobering reminder of just how fragile this could be.
Angels manager Joe Maddon has emphasized since spring training that Ohtani will take charge of his career and remove unnecessary restrictions.
“The rules are … there will be no rules,” Maddon said in February.
It paved the way for Sunday, the first time a pitcher hit No. 2 in the lineup since 1903. And it was evidenced by the way the top of the fifth inning unfolded, with Ohtani left for facing Yoan Moncada with the bases loaded, the command faltering and the pitch count approaching 90.
The decision had nothing to do with keeping Ohtani’s bat in the lineup, considering he made the final out in the previous half inning. And it wasn’t the result of not having someone ready in the bullpen, given how long Steve Cishek had been warming up. It was much simpler than that.
“Did you see the things he had?” Maddon asked, rhetorically, of course, after the Angels’ eventual 7-4 win.
Ohtani, certainly encouraged by the fans’ return to the ballparks, was “really grateful” that Maddon left him longer than most other coaches would have.
“I wanted to get out of trouble and show everyone that Joe’s decision was correct,” Ohtani said through his interpreter, “but I couldn’t.”
If Angels catcher Max Stassi had cornered that splitter Moncada went through for strike three, there would not have been that late throw to first base, which would not have prompted Abreu to turn around and score the run of the tie, which would not. they left Ohtani in a vulnerable position as they covered the plate.
Ohtani said he felt “good” after the game, adding that the shock “was not as bad as it seemed.”
The Angels won’t place him in the lineup on Monday, but the incident apparently won’t make them hesitate any longer to continue using him aggressively.
“All we thought it could be” was how Maddon described Ohtani pitching and hitting in the same game for the first time in his major league career. “That’s the complete baseball player: he throws 100, hits 100+, hits 400+ feet. I mean, that’s what we’ve been talking about. He just needed the chance to do it … I think he felt liberated. He felt free. He was playing baseball. “
Shohei Ohtani strikes out Yoan Moncada, but the ball passes the receiver and two runs are scored after Ohtani is rocked by a collision at the plate.
Ohtani’s rare talent was best captured by this astonishing first-inning statistic: His fastball to Adam Eaton (officially 100.6 mph) was the fastest pitch of any starting pitcher this season, and his 451-foot home run off Dylan Cease ( with a 115.2 mph exit velocity) was the strongest home run of the season for any player, according to ESPN statistics and information.
There are not many doubts about Ohtani offensively. He hit .286 / .351 / .532 in 792 plate appearances from 2018 to 2019, then hit five home runs in 13 spring training games in 2021. Concerns center on Ohtani’s pitching. He had racked up just 79 2/3 innings since his astonishing 2016 season in Japan, and many of his recent outings showed an inability to consistently throw strikes. Then came Sunday, which included …
Eight pitches thrown at least 100 mph, more than he had accumulated in 12 previous major league starts.
Two strikeouts from Yermin Mercedes, who posted a record eight hits in her first eight at-bats of the season (one of them came on three consecutive sliders, Ohtani’s third-best pitch).
Four running backs in the first four innings against a lineup that is among the best in the American League.
“I don’t think I’ve seen anyone who’s that good at both,” White Sox manager Tony La Russa said before the game.
“Oh, it’s disgusting,” added White Sox coach Leury Garcia.
Ohtani came from Japan promising to become the sport’s first two-way player since Babe Ruth stopped pitching, then teased us with two exciting months in 2018. What followed was Tommy John surgery, a rare procedure. knee and a nightmare in the 2020 season that included a 37.80 ERA and a .154 batting average. Ohtani attacked the following offseason with a purpose. She trained at Driveline, revamped her diet, altered her weight training regimen, and got into more game-like situations in an effort to fix a birth that had become inconsistent and a swing that had become erratic.
When he stepped onto the field for his pitching debut Sunday, the excitement had reached a fever pitch. Maddon’s aggressive approach promoted him, Ohtani’s dynamic spring powered him, and MLB could benefit from it. The industry has become obsessed with the desire to create more excitement, and Ohtani can potentially create that more than any other player. That’s why the answer to whether the Angels should try to use Ohtani as a two-way player was always “of course,” as long as he can stay healthy.
A talent like this should not be restricted.
Los Angeles clearly agree.