ANAHEIM -- The battle for the American League MVP Award was on full display on Monday night at Angel Stadium.
The AL MVP race is essentially down to Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani and Yankees slugger Aaron Judge with just a little more than a month remaining in the season. Both homered in the series opener at Angel Stadium, but it was Ohtani’s two-run homer in the fifth off Frankie Montas that proved to be the game-winner.
The Angels’ 4-3 victory in front of a sold-out crowd of 44,537 extended their winning streak to four games.
"It was a great ballgame just to be a part of," said interim manager Phil Nevin. "From the entertainment side of it, once I let Judge take a few swings [after two intentional walks], that's why you do those things. And then Sho's was a big one. He waited back on that split from Montas, and he got the part of the bat on it. It's how strong he is, hitting a ball out front like that."
It was the 29th homer of the year for Ohtani, the reigning MVP who has been heating up at the plate over the last month and has been pitching like an ace on the mound.
"Of course, it's important for a player to be able to have a season like this," Ohtani said through an interpreter. "I want to be able to keep this pace and continue to play in games. I've been able to see the ball pretty good, and it's leading to relatively good results."
Judge has had a better year offensively than Ohtani, as he has a slash line of .294/.396/.661 with 50 homers, 14 stolen bases and 110 RBIs in 125 games compared to Ohtani’s line of .267/.359/.523 with 29 homers, 11 stolen bases and 79 RBIs in 125 games. But when you add in Ohtani’s pitching stats, it becomes a much closer race despite Judge becoming just the seventh player in AL/NL history to reach 50 homers before September.
Ohtani has posted a 2.67 ERA with 176 strikeouts over 128 innings and 22 starts, including throwing seven scoreless innings with nine strikeouts against the Blue Jays on Saturday. Ohtani has the highest strikeout rate among all qualified pitchers and the 11th-best ERA in the Majors.
Nevin, who was the Yankees’ third-base coach from 2018-21, said he has a good relationship with Judge and has admired what the slugger has done this year but added that it’s hard to top Ohtani because of his two-way ability.
"What our guy does, until somebody can do that offensively and what he does on the mound, as far as value in this game and this league, I think it's Shohei,” Nevin said. “But I really love the guy across the field. I know what kind of special person he is."
It was the second straight game with a homer for Ohtani, who is batting .312/.387/.634 with seven homers and 17 RBIs in 26 games in August. Ohtani connected on a 1-2 splitter from Montas for a two-run homer in the fifth inning to give the Angels the lead. It was a no-doubter, as it left the bat at 102.7 mph and went a projected 398 feet to right-center field, per Statcast.
It was Ohtani's fourth career homer off Montas, which is his most against any pitcher. And it was the third homer of the game for the Angels, as Luis Rengifo hit a solo shot in the second and Mike Ford smacked a solo blast in the fourth to back lefty José Suarez, who allowed two runs over six innings to get the win.
Suarez got Judge to ground out as part of a 1-2-3 first inning but intentionally walked him in the third and fifth innings to get to lefty Andrew Benintendi with two outs. It worked out both times, with Benintendi grounding out to end the third and flying out to end the fifth.
But Judge reached homer No. 50 on the season on a solo shot in the eighth inning off reliever Ryan Tepera. The Angels, though, were able to weather the solo homer, with Jimmy Herget getting the save.
Ford, who played with the Yankees from 2019-21 and joined the Angels on Thursday, said it was a fun win to be a part of, especially with Ohtani and Judge both putting on a show.
"Judgy is on a different planet, and so is Shohei,” Ford said. “If they could give two awards, it would be those two. It was pretty fun to see them match up. And for them to both homer in the same game was pretty cool."