Last week, I went and saw Shohei Ohtani pitch and hit for the Angels in Detroit and got the full Sho-time Experience. On the mound, he threw an MLB career-high eight innings and allowed just one run; at the plate, he belted a 430-foot homer to deep right, his 40th of the season, that had people talking for days. He did more cool stuff in a couple of hours than most players do in an entire season, and Tigers fans loved it. Though they would have swapped this performance for a Miguel Cabrera dinger if they could have, you can hear on the home run highlight that the crowd can’t help but cheer as the Angels go up 3-1. On the way home, I could honestly say that this was the best Tigers loss I had ever been to. Shohei is just wonderful like that.
I bring this up because of what happened in Ohtani’s next start, in Baltimore on Wednesday night. Presumably, given that the O’s are 31.5 games back of the AL Wild Card, may not even reach 50 wins this year, and were riding a 19-game losing streak into this one, most in Camden Yards bought tickets for this one less to root, root, root for the home team and more to catch a glimpse of the most unique talents of baseball’s biggest draw. Unlike in Detroit last week, however, this crowd was in for a big surprise, as their Orioles somehow dominated Ohtani to pick up their first win since Aug. 2.
Ohtani the pitcher, who was 5-0 with a 1.58 ERA since the beginning of July, never even got the chance to settle into a groove. On his very first pitch in the bottom of the first, Orioles center fielder Cedric Mullins crushed a fastball over 400 feet into the seats right behind where he played in the top of the inning. Two batters later, after a tough nine-pitch at-bat against Trey Mancini, Ohtani saw another one of his fastballs leave the yard, as Anthony Santander pulled one into right for a 2-0 Orioles lead. (The camera cut to a young boy in a Mike Trout jersey celebrating his friend getting the ball as Santander rounded the bases.)
Ohtani would get through the second and third just fine, and the Angels gave him plenty of run support in the meantime, but Shohei wavered again in the fourth. Once more, it was a fastball on the outside, and this time, it was DJ Stewart who took it to left for a two-run shot. The Angels starter would bear down for six straight outs and then leave the game, having given up three times as many dongs as he had in any previous big league start.
Ohtani the hitter couldn’t make up for this trio of mistakes, and in fact struggled mightily against a community theater cast of Orioles pitchers. Chris Ellis, a 28-year-old pitching in just his third career MLB game, got Ohtani to swing and miss at three straight fastballs in the first, then struck him out with a more varied mix in the third. Conner Greene, in the sixth appearance of his career, came on as the Orioles’ third pitcher of the fourth inning and induced a groundout with a guy on second. And Cole Sulser, who has in fact been part of this team for more than ten minutes, got a strikeout that both ended the sixth inning and finished off Ohtani’s night.
“I didn’t see any need to push him at this time of year under the circumstances,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said afterwards.
For a while, this game seemed like the reverse of the conventional wisdom that all of Shohei’s greatest moments come with the Angels down 8-3. This time, their star was underwhelming, and yet the Halos led 6-4 at the seventh inning stretch. But—get this—the Orioles actually rallied! They small-balled a run across in the seventh—single, HBP, sacrifice, groundout—to make it 6-5, and then the eighth inning was pure chaos. Two different Angels pitchers allowed a walk with the bases loaded, while a pinch-hit double from Austin Hays and a Mullins sac fly helped shore up what finished as a 10-6 victory.
“There was tension in our dugout, there was pressure. Everybody was on the top step,” said O’s manager Brandon Hyde . “Our guys just really wanted this one. We’re tired of hearing, tired of seeing it on TV. Everybody’s tired of it.”
This was a great baseball game, provided you like the Orioles and are lukewarm on Ohtani. My instincts want to say that, unfortunately, nobody likes the Orioles right now, and everybody loves Shohei. But that’s not entirely backed up by the evidence. Listen to the Baltimore crowd in the early going as they take it to Shohei, and especially as the team makes its comeback. They’re loud! They’re psyched! They’re so frickin’ glad that they had not somehow already seen the final Orioles win of their lifetimes. I can’t speak to whether or not this is what most of them specifically came to see when Shohei took the hill, but it sure doesn’t seem like many of them would have traded it for a game like Detroit’s. The pull of an absolutely horrific car wreck of a hometown franchise is still, amazingly, at least a little bit stronger than that of the coolest player we’ve ever seen.