Shohei Ohtani Had The Best Day Ever, And So Did I
1:31 PM EDT on July 28, 2023
DETROIT — “It would be nice if he started hitting,” I wished aloud to no one in particular, as I thumbed through my scorebook to confirm a suspicion: that a one Mr. Shohei Ohtani, newly yanked from the trade market, was 0-for-8 through two games against the Tigers. The third game, the second of a doubleheader I'd spent my day off work to see, was underway and Ohtani had just struck out—make it 0-for-9.
My seats near the visitor's bullpen usually afford me unobstructed pregame views of Jordan Lyles and Lance Lynn, so when my brother and I arrived at them an hour before Ohtani was set to start the first game, we were tickled to see that we couldn't see anything at all. A couple hundred people crowded around the bullpen, some engaged in an unofficial sign-based contest over who had traveled farthest to get here. In my head, I heard an auctioneer's chant: 100 miles. 100 miles. Do I hear 200? 200 miles. 200 miles. The signs explained the curious number of Bo Bichette jerseys and the kid dressed in head-to-toe Milwaukee Brewers gear. (He took one peek down at Ohtani and bounded back up the stairs looking like he'd seen a ghost.) Some signs were polite, like one whose silvery sequined border framed a message in Japanese and a smaller sheepish English translation: May I please have a ball? Others cut to the chase: OHTANI-SAN, COME TO DETROIT.
The admirers had mostly filed out between games; no one drives hundreds of miles to watch Patrick Sandoval. That meant it was quiet enough for my muttered complaint about a light-hitting pitcher to reach an usher nearby. He'd sometimes drift over during the first game of the afternoon to ask how many hits the Tigers had (still just the one) or to grumble about Javy Báez's contract. He drifted over again and gave me a long, searching look. Maybe there was pity in his eyes, or maybe it was disgust. “The man just threw a complete game shutout!” he squawked. “What more do you want him to do?”
Well, true, the man had just thrown a 111-pitch one-hit shutout, the first time he’d pitched into the ninth inning in his MLB career. Where I usually watch Ohtani starts with a computer beside me, looking up the data like a nerd, chuckling at his eclectic pitch mixes, here I was just enjoying the analog experience of a pitcher mowing guys down. Some writers, tempted by the notion of cause and effect, might trace Ohtani's performance to the Angels making a real playoff push at the deadline this year. "I think we're making acquisitions to try and get us better and get us over that hump. I think us as players, we've just got to do our jobs," Ohtani told reporters after the Angels traded for Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo López. But I think the "fueled by front office belief" theory misunderstands Ohtani, who needs no motive to be excellent. He simply is this way, all the time. And though I did feel, after the usher's scolding, rather like the kids on My Super Sweet 16 who throw tantrums when they get the wrong kind of Mercedes, I wasn't wrong to imagine more. There is always more Shohei Ohtani can do.
He can hit an opposite-field home run, exactly 79 minutes after he pitches the final out of a shutout:
And in his next at-bat, he can hit a second home run to the deepest part of the park, the loudest hit I've ever heard. It left his bat at 116.9 mph. Allegedly. If you ask me, that number is too low:
But what I've always considered Ohtani's superpower is the way his character can so eclipse the plot. I'd shown up to the games in a Tigers hat, written each pathetic Tiger out into my scorebook in extreme heat for six hours, and even I couldn't believe the humorless Macomb County Joes who called in to the radio station that evening to complain about the Tigers. The Tigers! The Tigers! Imagine, thought a person who spends every waking moment of her life thinking about the Tigers, thinking about the Tigers at a time like this! What were the Tigers anyway? On this day, they existed to flatter Ohtani, and they had done their job. They were the backdrop against which his perfect features could be drawn out. Tigers starter Matt Manning, who gave up both home runs, knew better than to think about the Tigers. "He probably had the greatest day of baseball that anybody’s ever seen today. It was incredible," he said. If anyone had a greater day at the ballpark than Shohei Ohtani, it was me.