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Pitches Shohei Ohtani Threw To Mike Trout, Ranked

MIAMI, FLORIDA - MARCH 21: Shohei Ohtani #16 of Team Japan pitches in the top of the 9th inning during World Baseball Classic Championship between United States and Japan at loanDepot park on March 21, 2023 in Miami, Florida.
Gene Wang/Getty Images

Watch 'em all:

6. 0-0 slider, 88-mph, low and outside for a ball.

An objectively smart pitch to throw in this situation, given the particulars of the moment and the stakes involved. Sure, you're Shohei freakin' Ohtani, and you could try to put your foot down with a 100-mph first-pitch fastball, just to really let everyone in the stadium know who the boss is. But also the batter standing in up there is Mike freakin' Trout, and he could turn that first-pitch heater right the hell around and put it over the center-field wall, at which point he becomes the boss.

Still, trying to surprise Trout with a get-me-over slider on the first pitch felt a little unsuited for the moment, kind of like starting a fight by pointing behind your opponent and saying, "Oh shit, what's that over there?"

5. 1-1 fastball, 100-mph, outside for a ball.

This is a great moment for demonstrating just what exactly Ohtani was up against during this at-bat. A 100-mph fastball with some late tail on it, which settles into the catcher's mitt after juuuuust missing the outside corner of plate, is the kind of pitch that hurlers like Ohtani can build a career on. Yes, it's the diving splitters and sweeping sliders that get most of the swings and misses and get turned into GIFs that circulate around Twitter, but it's fastballs like this one that keep hitters in a constant state of panic. All you can really do is try to time up Ohtani's fastball, and then he fires one at you that's middle-away, and, hey! Maybe that's one you can slap into the opposite field! But ah, fuck, now it's tailing and is that gonna be a ball or is it gonna catch the corner welp no time to think really better take a pitiful little swing at that one and either foul it off or whiff like an idiot!

Trout just watched it go by. This is how you become one of the best hitters that ever lived. You have to hit the ball really hard and really far when you get a chance to, of course, but you also have to multiply those chances by spitting on pitches that other guys flail at, and turning 1-2 counts into 2-1 counts.

4. 1-0 fastball, 100-mph, right down the pipe for a swinging strke.

OK, now here's what everyone came to see. Baseball is the sport where things like this aren't supposed to happen. So many things have to break just right in order to create a situation like this, in which the two coolest and best players in the world—who also happen to be teammates!—are not only facing off against each other, but doing so in the bottom of the ninth inning of a one-run game with two outs and a trophy on the line. And once the moment arrived, the heightened emotions and expectations around it were almost too much to bear. Oh my god, is this really happening? This will never happen again! Jesus Christ, this better be good.

Which is what made Ohtani's 0-0 slider a bit of a disappointment, and what made this pitch such a vindication. A moment like Trout vs. Ohtani can only live up to the billing if Trout and Ohtani decide that it will, and so it was immensely satisfying to see Ohtani, after that first pitch, put any thoughts of nibbling around the plate out of his head and just pump one right down the middle. He looked at the guy who may well go down as the greatest player to ever live and said, I'm going to throw this ball really hard, straight through the most hittable part of the strike zone. Can you do anything with it?

3. 2-1 fastball, 100-mph, right down the middle once again for a swinging strike.

This is the coolest thing that ever happened!

2. 3-2 impossibly evil breaking pitch, 87-mph, outside for a swinging strike.

What even is this? Statcast would probably call this one of Ohtani's "sweepers," which is a term used to describe whatever the hell it is he's doing when he throws a pitch that's a little bit too hard to be a slider but breaks a little too horizontally to be a splitter. It's a really mean thing to throw at a hitter, is it what it is. This pitch just about broke across the entire width of home plate. Not even Mike Trout can do anything with that.

1. 2-2 fastball, 102-mph, in the dirt for a ball.

This is objectively the worst pitch that Ohtani threw during this at-bat, but it is my favorite. I'm always a sucker for little slices of time in which it becomes clear that the athletes participating in the moments that have me wide-eyed and clutching my chest are just as caught up as I am. Ohtani had just thrown three consecutive fastballs to Trout—two of them elicited mighty swings and misses and one just missed the outside corner. He was more or less in control of the at-bat, and he had a few good options for his 2-2 pitch. He could dot another 100-mph fastball anywhere he wanted to along the edges of the strike zone, or he could unleash any number of off-speed pitches. Either of those options would have been the smart thing to do, but Ohtani eschewed what was smart for what was cool as hell, as evidenced, I think, by the fact that this pitch came in at 102 mph instead of 100 mph.

He wanted to blow Trout away! Maybe he, like the rest of us, took a second to think about how cool it would be to end the game by firing yet another fastball over the plate, decided that it would in fact be really cool, and then reached back to throw the ball as hard as he possibly could. He missed badly, but whatever. Certain situations call for certain pitches, and certain players who are willing to meet the moment.

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