Column: Don’t miss it. Shohei Ohhhhh-tani is delivering the best season in baseball history
He has the perfect last name for this perfectly magical moment.
“Ohhhhh-tani!” intones Michael Araujo, Angel Stadium public address announcer, and here they come.
The ohhhhhs. Every inning, from every corner, the awestruck crowd serenading baseball’s best player with an elongated syllable of amazement.
The first ohhhhh Tuesday night was heard in the top of the first inning, when Angels pitcher Shohei Ohtani backhanded a sharp grounder by Boston’s Xander Bogaerts.
The second ohhhhh was heard in the bottom of the first inning when Angels designated hitter Shohei Ohtani lined an RBI double deep into the right-field corner.
On and on it went, dazzle after dazzle, unreal after unreal, ohhh after ohhh amid another two-sided Ohtani masterpiece in the Angels 5-3 victory over the team with the best record in the American League.
Now, in the wake of his final start before the All-Star break, an outrageous question can now legitimately be asked.
Is Shohei Ohtani having the best season by any player in baseball history?
The answer here is yes.
“He’s in the middle of it,” said Angels Manager Joe Maddon. “You can’t deny that.”
Angels star Shohei Ohtani will hit and pitch in next week’s MLB All-Star game, Angels manager Joe Maddon says.
Step away from the three months of hype, focus on the basics, and prepare to be blown away.
Ohtani is the best hitter in baseball. Ohtani is one of the best pitchers in baseball. And he’s both things at once, the first time anybody has embodied that in more than 100 years.
We’re watching Babe Ruth in Angel red. We’re watching history under a halo. We’re watching, and we can’t believe what we’re seeing.
“Nobody’s done it for a long, long time — we have to go back to Mr. Ruth to draw any comparisons,” said Maddon. “There’s not been one name mentioned, other than his, to compare Shohei to. I think that just screams what this is all about.”
As a hitter, Ohtani leads the big leagues with 31 homers and ranks among the leaders in runs, RBIs and slugging percentage.
As a pitcher, he is 4-1 with a 3.49 ERA and 87 strikeouts in 67 innings.
At the same time!
He’s like the star of your neighborhood Little League team, but he’s doing it in the major leagues. He’s like the hero in a sandlot movie, but he’s doing it for real.
Yeah, the guy who struck out your favorite hitter just homered against your favorite pitcher. In a big league uniform. In the same game. In the same inning.
“You see it on the lower levels … to see it on the pro level almost seems impossible,” Maddon said.
And thus every Ohtani sighting has become an event, the best nightly show in Southern California baseball, an entire game all by himself.
Attendance Tuesday night was announced at 28,698, but when Ohtani took center stage it sounded like three times that many. For the first time in recent Angel Stadium history, even the large and loud contingent of Red Sox fans were drowned out by Ohtani madness.
He allowed baseball’s second-ranked scoring team just two runs in seven innings. He doubled in a game-tying run in the first inning. The mediocre Angels are now 7-3 in games in which he pitches and hits.
Madness, right? The roaring Angel Stadium fans epitomized it, embracing the moment and rolling it off the tongue.
The crowd went ohhhhh at a 96-mph fastball that struck out Connor Wong flailing.
The crowd went ohhhhh at a 69-mph curve that froze Alex Verdugo.
Then Ohtani came to the plate in the sixth inning against Red Sox reliever Brandon Workman with two out and runners on first and second, and the crowd lost its ohhhhhver-loving mind.
He took a ball. Sustained grumbling. He had a huge swing and miss. Giant gasp. He fouled off a pitch. Ohhhhh. He fouled off another pitch. Ohhhhh. He struck out with a giant swing. Deafening groan.
Imagine the noise if he had actually succeeded.
Watch every home run Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani has hit so far this season.
“Marry Me Shohei,” read the furiously flapping cardboard sign in the outfield, and indeed, he is this town’s first post-pandemic rock star.
“It’s happening, it’s happening, and I think it’s going to get to the point where … even non-baseball fans become baseball fans just to watch him,” said Maddon.
Ohtani has owned the first half of the season, and now he will own the All-Star break. He became the first player chosen for the team as both a pitcher and a hitter, and if Major League Baseball has any sense, next Tuesday it will make sure he is the starting pitcher and batting second. Oh yeah, and he’s also starring in Monday’s Home Run Derby.
“It’s really special to watch … it’s fascinating, it’s interesting,” said Maddon.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of the show is, of course, the name of the last player to both hit and pitch with equal success.
“We all romanticize what it would have been like to watch Babe Ruth play — he pitched, really?” said Maddon, adding, “I mean, you hear this stuff and it’s a larger-than-life thought or concept. Now we’re living it. So don’t underestimate what we’re seeing.”
But you know what? Even Babe Ruth didn’t do it like this.
The previously greatest two-way player in baseball history had his most prolific double-duty season in 1919 for the Boston Red Sox. He was equal to Ohtani as a pitcher with a 9-5 record and 2.97 ERA, but he only hit 29 home runs, a number Ohtani has already surpassed.
Even Ruth admitted this is hard stuff.
In 1918, in an interview with F.C. Lane of Baseball Magazine, Ruth said, “I don’t think a man can pitch in his regular turn, and play every other game at some other position, and keep that pace year after year. I can do it this season all right, and not feel it, for I am young and strong and don’t mind the work. But I wouldn’t guarantee to do it for many seasons.”
The Angels defeated the Boston Red Sox 5-4 on Wednesday to take the series.
The thankful Angels and their long-suffering fans will take just this season, which has elicited roars from seemingly everyone but Ohtani himself. The muscle-bound 6-foot-4 giant has a soft smile and delivers a subdued message. In both his native Japanese and through English translation, he is quietly grateful and generally circumspect.
When asked about the fans Tuesday, he said through a translator, “I feel all the cheers, I’m simply thankful for all the fans that are cheering me on. As a baseball player, the more cheers you get, the better you can perform. … The more, the merrier.”
When asked if he agreed he was having the best season in baseball history, he said, “I don’t want to jump to any conclusions, we’re just barely past halfway, we have a lot of baseball left. … I just want to focus on the team win.”
Sorry, Shohei, but the baseball world is jumping, Orange County is jumping, the Angel Stadium joint is jumping, everyone awaiting the next great ohhhhh.
“I’m just saying, ‘Don’t miss it,’” said Maddon.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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