Shohei Ohtani had tantalized as a pitcher and as a hitter in the past, but he had never done both in the same game until Sunday night. Finally putting his full arsenal on display in prime time, Ohtani, the Los Angeles Angels’ Japanese star, dazzled with 100 mile-per-hour fastballs and also hit the hardest home run of any batter so far this season.
His thrilling day ended with a scary scene, though: Ohtani on the ground in pain, after having had his feet taken out from under him while trying to cover home plate. After the Angels rallied in the bottom of the ninth to beat the White Sox, 7-4, Ohtani was left with a sore ankle and one of the wildest no-decisions you will come across.
“What he did tonight was pretty special, and you’re going to see a lot more of that,” Manager Joe Maddon told reporters after the game. “It was fun to watch. I think everybody was entertained. That’s what he signed up to do, and you’re going to see more of it.”
The awkward ending for Ohtani — the Angels said he was fine — slightly marred a game that had turned into a celebration of a player who was likened to Babe Ruth when he first came to the United States from Japan.
Sunday’s setup was without precedent in recent decades. Ohtani started on the mound and batted second — a first for a pitcher since 1903. And he was clearly up for the honor, crushing a 451-foot home run on the first pitch he saw from Chicago’s Dylan Cease.
The exit velocity on Ohtani’s blast was 115.2 m.p.h., which is not only the hardest-hit home run of the season, but is the hardest recorded by an Angels player since Statcast data began being collected in 2015.
For good measure, Ohtani also threw nine pitches that topped 100 m.p.h. in four-plus innings of work, topping out at 101.1 on a fastball to Adam Eaton in the fourth inning that resulted in a groundout. It was the fastest pitch thrown by a starting pitcher anywhere in baseball this season.
Ohtani’s final line(s) for the day:
As a pitcher: 4⅔ innings, two hits, three runs (one earned), seven strikeouts, five walks
As a batter: 1 for 3, 451-foot solo homer
“I’m glad I got this game under my belt,” Ohtani told reporters through his interpreter. “It will lead to more confidence.”
He added: “I’m not out to prove the doubters wrong or anything.”
The decision to have Ohtani bat for himself in an A.L. game was unusual — only two other starting pitchers have batted for themselves in an American League game since the designated hitter was introduced in 1973 — but the choice to have him hit so high in the batting order was far more rare, regardless of league.
Ohtani was the first starting pitcher to bat first or a second in a game since Jack Dunleavy did it for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1903. Dunleavy, a two-way player who regularly served as a right fielder as well as a starting pitcher, started at pitcher and batted second in the second game of a doubleheader on Sept. 7, 1903. His double-duty game didn’t go well: He went 0 for 4 and allowed seven runs in a 7-3 loss to the Cincinnati Reds.
While Ohtani’s abilities as a pitcher and hitter were well known long before he came to the United States, he had always employed a designated hitter during his starts on the mound, while also taking an extra day off as a batter in advance of days he was scheduled to pitch. But after elbow issues resulted in his being limited to only two starts on the mound over the last two seasons, he reported to camp fully healthy this spring and rumors began to buzz that he would bat for himself on days he started.
“Don’t you love it?” Maddon had previously told reporters when asked about Ohtani’s decision to bat on the days he pitches. “This is all him. This was him deciding that he could do this.”
The bases were loaded in the fifth inning when Ohtani let in a run with a wild pitch, narrowing the Angels’ lead to 3-1. He then appeared to escape further trouble when, with two outs and runners on second and third, he struck out Yoan Moncada with a splitter. But catcher Max Stassi was unable to catch the ball, resulting in Moncada’s taking off for first base.
Stassi’s throw to first was wild enough that the runner on third scored while Jose Abreu, Chicago’s supersize first baseman, rounded third and headed home. Ohtani dutifully covered the plate, but had to reach well above his head for a late throw. As Ohtani came down to the ground, Abreu’s slide carried him directly into the pitcher’s left leg, sending Ohtani to the ground grimacing in pain. He was immediately removed from the game.
While there was nothing unusual about Abreu’s slide, the play certainly looked scary for Ohtani. But shortly after Ohtani was removed from the game, ESPN reported that the team had said he was fine. The Angels reported that he had only general soreness, and that he would be re-evaluated on Monday.
“I can’t really pinpoint exactly where he hit me, but he took my legs out, basically, somewhere around my calf,” Ohtani said. “I landed on it, but the impact wasn’t as bad as it looked initially.
“As for tomorrow, will have to talk to the training staff.”