Shohei Ohtani Highlights Have Made Me Care About Baseball Again
11:07 AM EDT on April 27, 2021
I realized something when I sat down to write this blog: This is only my second baseball article for Defector, coming almost eight months (!) after our launch. Part of that is that my cowardly editors will not let me blog about the mighty Miami Marlins, and part of that is that the mighty Miami Marlins don't really warrant words on the internet at this present day and time. But the 2021 season has sparked, somewhere deep inside of me, the love of watching and, more importantly for me, talking about baseball. The reason for that is simple: I can't seem to be able to scroll through Twitter on a particular day without seeing a Shohei Ohtani highlight that makes me start drooling.
When Defector last wrote about this two-way hero, it was after his most highlight-worthy game of the season, and it was with a simple plea: Let us have Ohtani. The fourth-year budding megastar had just gotten injured and there was—unfounded, it turned out—worry that we would robbed of his monster presence for some significant amount of time. Thankfully, that was not the case, and so I was able to properly go back and enjoy Ohtani throwing 101 mph on the mound and absolutely yoking a high, 97-mph fastball deep into right center, like the hurricane of fast-twitch muscles that he is:
That game against the Chicago White Sox on April 5 was Ohtani's first start of the season, and he followed it up with four shutout innings against the Texas Rangers on April 20. Monday night was his third start of the year, and again against the Rangers. I wasn't going to miss that. Texas is the perfect team to guarantee some chaos: Their lineup has enough power to challenge Ohtani, and their pitching is weak enough to offer him some meatballs to smash. That bore fruit early on, as Ohtani struggled with his command and got tagged with a three-run homer while keeping his tear at the plate going on the other.
Through one-and-a-half innings, he had given up four runs, but also scored twice and drove in two runs with a ripped double that cut the lead to 4-3. He also angled a perfect bunt, because why not?
His control settled in after that messy first frame, and I was treated to a five-inning win in which Ohtani struck out nine. Watching Ohtani pitch is mesmerizing; he's just so big and strong that it shouldn't be fair that he ever gets his control steadied, which he did after that rocky first inning. In the four innings that followed, Ohtani retired 12 of 13 batters, with only Isiah Kiner-Falefa managing a limp single in the bottom of the fifth. When he breezily struck out the side in the bottom of the fourth with a cruel mix of expertly placed fastballs, splitters, and sliders, he looked like the best pitcher in the game.
And yet those half-inning bursts of perfect pitching aren't even the most fun Ohtani has to offer, because at the end of the day I just want to see him demolish the baseball at the plate. Doubles that feel like they would take someone's head off are part of the fun, though it's the home runs that I keep going back to. On Sunday, Ohtani stepped up in a tie game against the vile Houston Astros and promptly walloped a 92-mph pitch on the outside corner to, yet again, deep right center.
A human being should not be able to generate enough power on that type of pitch to pull the ball 440 feet. For that matter, Saturday's must-see highlight was similarly perplexing, as he whacked a ball deep into center; even he couldn't believe he got that much power on it, because he sprinted all the way to third before someone alerted him that it was long gone. Thanks to the two-homer series against Houston, Ohtani achieved another thing that no living baseball fan has seen: Thanks to Sunday's dinger, Ohtani stepped onto the mound on Monday as the first pitcher to start a game while also leading the majors in home runs since Babe Ruth did it a cool century ago. There really is nothing quite like him in sports right now.
Every Ohtani start is now appointment viewing for me, and I have made a Twitter list of Los Angeles Angels writers, just to ensure I see any massive hits or clutch doubles as quickly as humanly possible. For years, I have been a "check in on the Marlins and watch them if a cool guy is on the mound" kind of baseball fan, and I feel like I've earned that, given the horrible ownership that the team has had since my youth. That's turning around on its own, which is nice, but it's not a super enticing way to get me to watch a sport that I definitely fell off from when I moved away from Miami in 2007. No, the reason I bought MLB The Show 21 and stayed up til 2:00 a.m. on Monday playing is that Shohei Ohtani has made it fun for me to follow the endless grind of the baseball season, and I am going to be on this ride as long as he stays healthy and producing at least one mind-boggling highlight per game.
Correction (1:40 p.m. ET): A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Monday night was Ohtani's second start of the year. It was actually his third. This has been corrected above.