NEW YORK (AP) — Fans came for Sho time, to watch Shohei Ohtani perform Ruthian feats. Instead, the 26-year-old Japanese sensation exited almost as quickly as the Bambino did during a famous early career outing.
Offensive fireworks and mound magnificence had been combined by Ohtani in a manner not seen since Ruth pitched regularly for the Red Sox in 1919, the last season before Boston sold him to New York.
Taking the mound below Yankee Stadium’s famous facade, Ohtani failed miserably but spectacularly. He allowed a career-worst seven runs and got just two outs.
A miserably hot and humid night ended in a shocking Angels victory, unprecedented going back to at least 1900. Los Angeles became the first team to give up seven runs in the first inning and score seven in the ninth to win, beating the Yankees 11-8 at 1:06 a.m. Thursday in a game that took 5 hours, 57 minutes, including a pair of rain delays.
Ohtani is the talk of baseball, a focus of the All-Star Game, where he will be the first Japanese player in the Home Run Derby at Denver’s Coors Field on July 12.
He entered with a .278 batting average, leading the major leagues with 28 homers, third with 63 RBIs and second with a .688 slugging percentage after homering three times as a designated hitter during the first two games of the series. His 93.8 mph average exit velocity is fifth-hardest in the majors, trailing only the Yankees’ Aaron Judge (96.5), Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (95), Atlanta’s Ronald Acuña Jr. (94.1) and San Diego’s Manny Machado (93.9).
And he excelled on the bump, too, going 3-1 with a 2.58 ERA in 11 starts. His fastball averaged 95.4 mph, his devastating splitter among the best.
A curious crowd of 30,713, the largest since before the pandemic, greeted him with Bronx cheers instead of the usual jeers. Ohtani, sweating profusely, lasted all of nine batters and 41 pitches.
“I was yanking the balls,” he said through a translator. “I wasn’t able to get used to the mound.”
He walked his first three hitters, allowed a pair of run-scoring singles, then got two outs before hitting a batter with a pitch and forcing in a run with walk No. 4. When reliever Aaron Slegers gave up DJ LeMahieu’s three-run double, a 2-0 lead had turned into a 7-2 deficit and Ohtani’s ERA had swollen to 3.60.
By then Ohtani had flipped a ball to himself a few times, patted his chest, exhaled and said “thank you” to plate umpire John Libka while walking to the dugout.
“He makes it look easy, but it ain’t easy to do. This is Little League stuff,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said hours earlier. “You play two or three days a week and you do this. You’re the best kid on the team. You hit and you pitch and you’re the first guy in the line for the ice cream cone.”
Not since Ruth on Sept. 28, 1930, had someone homered twice in a game, then started his team’s next matchup on the mound, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The only others to do it are remembered from sepia photos: John Montgomery Ward in 1883, Bob Caruthers in 1886 and John Clarkson in 1887.
“All the things we’re hearing and the once in a lifetime, once in a generation-type talent, I don’t think that’s hyperbole at all,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “The bat speed, the torque, the kinetic chain that he has in the batter’s box and what he’s able to create, and then to go do it on the mound, we haven’t seen it because, obviously, it’s incredibly difficult, borderline impossible.”
Maddon thought Yankee Stadium’s aura had charged Ohtani. The Angels waived their DH, something no team had done against the Yankees since the rule was adopted in 1973. Not even just that, Maddon hit his pitcher leadoff — forcing Ohtani to warm up early, come to bat, then take the mound.
No pitcher had been among the top five batting slots in the Bronx since Ruth hit third on Oct. 1, 1933, and pitched a 12-hitter to beat Boston on the final day of the regular season, a cameo that was his first time on a mound in three years — and his last.
Maddon, at 67 in his 18th season as a major league manager, sounded as much fan as skipper.
“His smile, the way he plays the game hard, where he came from, isn’t that interesting? How did he get here? What was it like as a kid growing up in Japan? And how did he become such a wonderful baseball player? And how come everybody on his team loves him and he interacts with them so well? What is he like now? How good does he speak English right now?” Maddon said.
“All these things to me are interesting. And here’s a perfect guy, if you’re talking about growing the game, you don’t have to know anything about baseball. I mean, like zero. And you could come to Yankee Stadium tonight and you can watch a guy pitch and possibly hit a home run hitting leadoff? For the Los Angeles Angels?”
He compared Ohtani’s ability in baseball with that of Michael Jordan in basketball, Tom Brady in football and Tiger Woods in golf, saying a fluid body makes Ohtani appear effortless.
“Any pitcher, you pitch even three or four innings in a game, normally afterwards, the whole side of your body right down to your butt cheek is going to be sore,” Maddon said. “Now if his side is sore or hurt, he doesn’t let on.”
On a landmark night, the Yankees lost for the first time since June 2, 1954, after scoring seven runs in the first. They had not lost when leading by four runs in the ninth since Aug. 18, 2000.
The Yankees became the Yankees because of Ruth’s success. But his shortest start was memorable, too.
When tossed by plate umpire Brick Owens after walking Washington’s Ray Morgan leading off at Fenway Park on June 23, 1917, Ruth punched the ump on the way off. Ernie Shore relieved and retired 27 straight batters in a performance some consider a perfect game.
Ruth had yet to build his legacy. Four seasons into his major league career Ohtani remains a unicorn, still undefined.
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