Get your popcorn ready, it's Sho(hei) Ohtani time!
By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist
There are all kinds of reasons to watch Shohei Ohtani play baseball, so many that it’s tough to know where to begin.
How about this? Ohtani, the Los Angeles Angels highlight machine, is doing the kind of things not seen since the days of Babe Ruth 100 years ago – and that’s not even the most compelling thing about him.
On June 13, 1921, Ruth took to the mound for the New York Yankees against the Detroit Tigers. Until Ohtani’s outing in a 9-4 Angels victory over the Texas Rangers on Monday, it remained the last time an active home run leader had started a game as a pitcher.
Thanks to baseball’s devoted chronicling of its history and nostalgia, details of The Great Bambino’s showing a century ago are readily available. He slammed two dingers, his 20th and 21st of the campaign, but gave up four runs in the fifth and got pulled. He wouldn’t start at pitcher again until 1930, instead concerning himself with the small matter of becoming a hitter of eternal greatness.
Even so, it is hard to imagine his afternoon in 1921 was any more eventful than Ohtani’s a century later, for the Japanese wunderkind doesn’t do boring, his game adding a level of unpredictability and dynamism that is truly compelling.
He can do everything, but he can’t do it every time and there is as much chance of things going temporarily wrong as there is of it going spectacularly right. Don’t remove your eyes for long, though, because the moments where it clicks offer up something truly special.
"If you weren’t entertained by watching him tonight, you can’t be entertained watching the game of baseball," Angels manager Joe Maddon told reporters.
On Monday, Ohtani, 26, started shakily and gave up four runs in the first inning with a wild pitch, a hit batter and two walks mixed in among 28 pitches, before immediately helping turn things around. Los Angeles evened things up by the top of the second, after Ohtani laced a two-run double and then came around to score.
By the end of the night, the Angels had run away with the contest to move to 11-10, good enough for third place in the AL West, three games behind the hard-charging Oakland Athletics.
In addition to the revival-sparking double, Ohtani added a cheeky bunt for a base hit, drew a walk and would have likely had a stolen base had Maddon not held him up, all while overhauling his pitching performance to a point that deserves its own sentence.
On the mound, he found his groove, compiling nine strikeouts – including a stretch of five in a row – and retiring 14 of the last 15 batters he faced. During that run he was borderline un-hittable, painting the outside corners and mixing in splitters, sliders and his high-velocity fastball.
"(Being) able to drive in those two runs, that was huge for me," Ohtani said afterward. "I treated it like a brand-new ballgame."
Ohtani is made for the highlight package and already, after only two appearances as a two-way starter, there is plenty of fodder for the reel. His overall numbers, with seven HR, 18 RBI and an average of .300, are impressive enough on the batting side alone, while the pitching piece adds a whole new dimension.
Throughout it all, there is a level of attention few players have to deal with, as his every move is the source of endless fascination back in Japan and growing intrigue in these parts, too. That’s what happens when a guy can make batters fan and flail, can hit it out of the park, can run like the wind and yet still be inconsistent enough to keep his dugout twitchy.
"As a young player coming up from the minors then getting up here is like trying to slow the game down," teammate Mike Trout said. "And I think Shohei was already doing that in Japan because he had all the attention. He was put through it already. He knows what the big moments are like and how to react."
There is a special story brewing here, especially if Ohtani can stay healthy, continue his improvement and continue this two-pronged charge. The Angels have failed, it must be said, to turn the Trout era into a chance to contend for titles, but at certain times they are "must-see" entertainment right now. Namely whenever Ohtani is involved.
For all the links to history and comparisons with Ruth, there is a simple reality about what makes this development enjoyable and it’s what we’ve waited for since he moved to the United States in 2018.
Watching Ohtani is nothing to do with numbers and everything to do with fun, just like baseball should be.
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider Newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.