Way back in April, I and every other baseball fan who wants there to be good things in the world watched Shohei Ohtani make his first start of the season while also hitting in the second spot of the Angels’ batting order. Ohtani homered in that game, and allowed two hits to go along with seven strikeouts in 4.2 innings of work. Last night, Ohtani once again took the mound for the Angels, this time hitting in the leadoff spot. He homered, pitched eight innings, struck out eight, and allowed just one run. He is only getting better.
Everything that has happened between those two games constitutes the most fabulous season-long performance Major League Baseball has ever seen. That homer Ohtani hit last night was his 40th of the year, a number that sits quite nicely next to his 1.011 OPS, 25 doubles, 87 RBI, and 18 stolen bases. Those eight strikeouts he racked up gave him 120 Ks on the season, a mark he has achieved in just 100 innings pitched. He’s made 18 starts and has a 2.79 ERA.
It is not possible to be hyperbolic about what Ohtani has done both on the mound and in the batter’s box this year, because you cannot exaggerate something that nobody has ever seen or experienced before. If tomorrow you were transported to the far reaches of the universe and got to meet some aliens, nobody would accuse you of overdoing it when you tried to describe your journey after you got back. Which is why I feel comfortable saying this: Shohei Ohtani’s season has been far more impressive than his numbers could ever suggest, because his greatness is not just captured by the fact that he accrued all of those statistics, but in the how of it.
I’ve tried to catch as many of Ohtani’s games as possible, and lately I’ve been thinking about what I will remember most about watching him this season. I’ll recall plenty of homers and strikeouts, sure, but what’s been sticking with me more than anything else are the quieter moments. I remember a game early in the season, during which Ohtani took a huge, menacing hack at a pitch and missed, and the camera cut to Justin Upton standing on first base, who was making a face like he had just seen an orca leap out of the ocean. I remember when Ohtani threw a heater right past Mark Canha’s face, and then just stood on the mound and laughed at everyone while the benches cleared before blowing Canha away with a 3-2 fastball right down the middle. I’ll remember how Gerrit Cole briefly considering just giving up baseball entirely after Ohtani just missed tagging him for a homer. I will, of course, remember how the Detroit crowd couldn’t help but unleash a wave of cheers when Ohtani homered in the eighth inning of last night’s game.
I will hold onto these moments and others like them because they are reminders of just how ineffable and overwhelming Ohtani’s talents truly are. You could show someone who has never watched baseball before a handful of these moments, not tell them a single thing about Ohtani’s stats, and they would probably come to the conclusion that he’s the greatest baseball player who ever lived.
It’s not just that Ohtani hit 40 homers, it’s that he always swings as hard as he possibly can and makes a sound like a gunshot every time he connects. It’s not just that he can strike out more than a batter per inning and hit leadoff, it’s that he gets those strikeouts by throwing 100-mph fastballs, splitters that could bore into the earth, and the occasional 67-mph curveball. Maybe in some alternate universe there is another version of Ohtani who has the exact same statistics as our version, but earned them by slapping dingers that just barely cleared the wall and throwing a bunch of 93-mph cutters. That version of Ohtani would be just as good as ours, but he wouldn’t be as great.
Ohtani has rewired so much of what I thought was true about baseball, a game I had always assumed was far too difficult to ever allow someone to be this good and this cool at the same time. I can’t believe he’s real. I can’t believe we all get to watch him.