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Shohei Ohtani Cannot Possibly Do More Than This

MIAMI, FLORIDA - JULY 06: Shohei Ohtani #17 of the Los Angeles Angels celebrates a strikeout during the seventh inning against the Miami Marlins at loanDepot park on July 06, 2022 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Wednesday night Shohei Ohtani did something that has not been done since at least 1920. In a pleasant twist, this is not a true “Tungsten Arm” O’Doyle situation: Ohtani’s latest feat of two-way excellence the likes of which has not been seen in generations was not capped by another dreary 8–3 Angels loss. Ohtani mowed his way through seven shutout innings on the mound, put the Angels ahead with a sharp two-run single in the fifth, and then later swiped second following a walk, in an eventual 5–2 road win over the Marlins. In the process, he became the first player since runs batted in were made an official statistic more than 100 years ago to steal a base, drive in multiple runs, and strike out at least 10 batters in the same game. Other guys have come close, but it’s been more than 30 years since any pitcher has had the strikeouts and the stolen base and even one run batted in.

The stuff on display Wednesday night was downright disgusting. Ohtani’s first five strikeouts came on that incredible, unhittable splitter. The Marlins seemed to have an easier time picking up Ohtani’s signature strikeout pitch toward the end of his second pass through their lineup—three consecutive batters laid off balls when behind in the count, just as Ohtani was starting to look like he might not need anything else in his arsenal. No matter: Ohtani’s next five strikeouts came on: a 101-mph chest-high heater, two nightmare frisbee sliders, and a pair of vicious 12–6 curves that caught Garrett Cooper and Avisail Garcia in frozen disbelief.

Do not allow yourself to become jaded by the rate of Ohtani’s modern-era statistical firsts. The milestones can seem somewhat arbitrary; when someone says that a baseball guy has done something that was last done sometime during or before World War 1, I for one imagine three home runs in a single inning or nine straight strikeouts, a single big bold number like that that leaps off the page. It is not super rare for a player to strike out 10 batters (104 10-strikeout performances so far in 2022, entering Wednesday night); it is even less rare for a player to steal a base (1,173 player games with at least one stolen base prior to Wednesday’s games); it is not even a little bit rare for a guy to drive in two runs (2,333 instances in just this half-season). Take some not rare and not especially remarkable single-game accomplishments and smash them together and voila, you’ve got what can seem like a completely imagined historical distinction. That Ohtani produces one of these seemingly every fifth or sixth day can start to make the feats seem somewhat cherry-picked.

But it’s worth nothing here that Ohtani, in his fifth stateside season, is still the only person in Major League Baseball with his precise job description, and the reason that he is compiling all these little statistical breakthroughs is because it has been a century since any player was quite good enough at both pitching and hitting to demand a full-time job doing both. Ohtani is presently eighth in the American League in home runs as a hitter and fifth in strikeouts as a pitcher. Four weeks ago Ohtani gave up his most recent earned run. Since the start of that game he’s smacked seven dingers, driven in 19 runs, stolen a couple bags, fanned 40 batters, and won four games. Wednesday’s pristine outing made Ohtani just the eighth pitcher since ERA became an official statistic in 1913 to go 4–0, strike out 40-plus hitters, and allow zero earned runs over four consecutive starts. Even for Ohtani, this is becoming outrageous:

This is as untouchable as Ohtani has appeared in his MLB career, and that is saying something. That this stretch of dominant pitching has earned Ohtani five consecutive wins feels like something of a breakthrough, an all-too-rare patch where his heroics are not undermined by the Angels’ habit of self-sabotage. It’s a nice change of pace to see a clip of Ohtani doing something incredible and note that the Angels won the damn baseball game. Then again, during the same stretch of calendar in which Ohtani has won five straight, the Angels have gone 5–14 in games started by anyone else, and now sit seven games below .500 and 16 games back in the AL West. Dammit.

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