ANAHEIM — Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani has been doing things never seen in the history of Major League Baseball, and he created more history against the Yankees on Wednesday.
Ohtani launched his 30th homer of the year, which made him the first player in AL/NL history to record 10 wins on the mound and 30 homers at the plate in the same season. And it came at a critical moment, as his three-run blast off Yankees ace Gerrit Cole in the sixth inning gave the Angels the lead in an eventual 3-2 win at Angel Stadium. It also helped Ohtani become the first Japanese-born player with multiple 30-homer seasons.
“I’m simply honored, happy and humbled to hear that,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara, when told of his accomplishments. “But I just want to stay healthy and finish strong.”
It was the second go-ahead blast of the series for Ohtani, who also launched a two-run shot in Monday’s 4-3 victory. The series was billed as a matchup between American League MVP candidates in Ohtani and the Yankees’ Aaron Judge, and it lived up to the hype. Judge homered on Monday and Tuesday to give him 51 on the season, but the Angels came away with the series victory, as Ohtani batted .417 (5-for-12) with two homers, a double and five RBIs in the three-game set.
Ohtani said the AL MVP race with Judge is giving him extra drive down the stretch, as he’s looking to become the first back-to-back winner since Miguel Cabrera in 2012 and ’13.
“It definitely leads to motivation to do better and try to go for that hardware,” Ohtani said. “It’s something I think about. But for the most part, I take it game by game and at-bat by at-bat. At the end of the day, we’ll count it all up.”
Ohtani is slashing .269/.359/.529 with 30 homers, 20 doubles, 82 RBIs, 75 runs scored and 11 stolen bases in 127 games. And he’s also pitched like an ace in 22 starts on the mound, with his next start coming on Saturday against the Astros. Ohtani is 11-8 with a 2.67 ERA and 176 strikeouts in 128 innings. He’s also the only player in AL/NL history with at least 30 homers and 100 strikeouts in a season, a feat he also accomplished last year, when he hit 46 homers and struck out 156 batters.
To put things in perspective, Ohtani is third in the AL in homers and fifth in the AL in strikeouts as a pitcher.
Given Ohtani’s accolades, interim manager Phil Nevin said he wasn’t surprised to see Ohtani come through in a big moment in front of a sold-out crowd of 43,555.
“It was going to come down to something like that with the fans and the way the stadium was,” Nevin said. “One of the stars was just rising up right here. Sho got a good one. He swung the bat well all three days. As a fan, it was an awesome day and I’m sure it was fun the last few days.”
Ohtani nearly went deep in the first inning on a first-pitch curveball from Cole, but Aaron Hicks made a leaping catch at the wall to rob him. Then, Ohtani came through in the sixth after the Yankees committed back-to-back errors. He crushed a 2-0 fastball to center field for a three-run blast to give the Angels the lead. It left the bat at 107.3 mph and went a Statcast-projected 427 feet.
Cole said it was his “probably his worst fastball of the night,” and Ohtani was able to deliver the game-altering blow.
“I just missed it in my first at-bat, so I wanted that next opportunity,” Ohtani said. “Luckily, Trout got on with the error and it gave me that opportunity. I’m happy I came through.”
Ohtani’s performance capped a strong August that saw him slash .317/.386/.653 with eight homers and 20 RBIs in 28 games. He also posted a 2.20 ERA with 31 strikeouts over 28 2/3 innings in five starts.
His three-run shot backed lefty Patrick Sandoval, who allowed two runs on three hits over seven strong innings to outduel Cole and get the win. Sandoval, like everyone else, remains in awe of Ohtani.
“It’s ridiculous,” said Sandoval, who has a 3.02 ERA in 22 starts. “He’s got a 2-something ERA and he’s hit 30 bombs. The guy is a unicorn. It’s insane.”
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