All eyes on Ohtani (19th SB) at LL Classic

Two-way star reaches base 3 times but Halos fall in sweep

August 23rd, 2021

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- As walked toward home plate before leading off the Little League Classic at historic Bowman Field on Sunday night, he made sure to acknowledge all of the Little Leaguers seated behind home plate.

Ohtani waved to the youth players and during his first at-bat against Indians right-hander Cal Quantrill, they all chanted, "Take him yard, take him yard!" Ohtani didn't quite oblige, as he didn't homer, but he did single and promptly stole his team-leading 19th stolen base of the year.

The two-way star was undoubtedly the biggest draw among the Little Leaguers, and while the Angels’ bats were otherwise quiet in a 3-0 loss to Cleveland, it was still a memorable night for all those involved. Ohtani went 1-for-2 with two walks and is now just one stolen base away from becoming the first Angels player to ever have 40 homers and 20 stolen bases in a season.

"He had some really good at-bats,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “They were pitching him tough. We had one successful hit-and-run. He stole a base. We had things set up. But their pitchers rose to the occasion."

And even though the Little League World Series is restricted to U.S. teams only this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ohtani received quite the welcome from the Little Leaguers both at the Little League complex and at Bowman Field. Ohtani also received hand-written placards from Japanese Little Leaguers who participated in the MLB Cup, as they wanted to show their support from afar.

Maddon wasn’t surprised by Ohtani’s reception and loved the energy from the Little Leaguers at the ballpark.

"It's wonderful,” Maddon said. “The kids are into it. They had their thundersticks, which I think we started in 2002 [with the Angels in the postseason]. And they were fun before the game. They came down for autographs and wanted pictures, that kind of thing. I love that stuff. When you see the kids and how eager they are and how much they enjoy being here, it's pretty special.”

Ohtani’s appeal among the Little Leaguers is only natural, as many of the best players in the tournament both pitch and hit just like Ohtani. And they all are in awe of his historic season, as Ohtani leads the Majors with 40 homers and is also 8-1 with a 2.79 ERA and 120 strikeouts in 100 innings as a pitcher.

Even Indians manager DeMarlo Hale couldn’t help but notice that the Little Leaguers behind Cleveland’s dugout were supporting Ohtani during his times at the plate.

"We had a group behind our dugout and they were cheering for Shohei Ohtani actually,” Hale said with a laugh. “I thought they were supposed to be on our side."

And fellow superstar Mike Trout also can’t believe what he’s been seeing from Ohtani, especially after his epic performance in Detroit on Wednesday.

“Shohei is a different cat,” Trout said. "The Detroit game kind of put his whole season in perspective. He threw eight innings on 90 pitches and then hits his 40th homer. It's pretty special and it's not even September yet. So we're fortunate. When he came over here, this is what we expected and it obviously took him a little bit of time to learn how it is over here and he's been doing great this year."

Ohtani also walked in the third and attempted to steal second base again but it was part of a successful hit-and-run with David Fletcher. But Ohtani was stranded at third with Justin Upton grounding into an inning-ending double play.

Ohtani came up to the plate as the tying run in the eighth inning and the crowd chanted, “Shohei, Shohei” during his plate appearance. Ohtani responded by drawing a walk against reliever James Karinchak to load the bases with one out. But Fletcher followed with a double-play grounder against reliever Bryan Shaw to end the scoring chance.

It was another missed opportunity for the Angels, who were swept by Cleveland after they swept Detroit. The Angels had a combined 11 hits and two runs in the three-game series.

"J-Up, we had first and third, I kind of like that,” Maddon said. “And then David with the bases loaded, I kind of like that. So we had a couple opportunities. We did hit some balls hard. We just came off a nice series in Detroit and had a pretty nice win the last day we were there, but there was no carryover. When the other team pitches much better than you do, they get the benefits."