'An absolute ace': Sho K's 10 in home finale

AL MVP front-runner reaches 150-strikeout milestone in 7-inning effort

September 27th, 2021

ANAHEIM -- lost out on getting his 10th win of the season, but he still turned in yet another dominant performance on the mound against the Mariners on Sunday.

Ohtani, making his 23rd start of the year, allowed one run over seven innings, with 10 strikeouts and no walks in a 5-1 loss at Angel Stadium. With fans raining down MVP chants throughout the afternoon, he reached the 150-strikeout milestone in the process and turned in back-to-back outings with at least 10 strikeouts for the first time in his career.

"He was really good and he's been like that," Angels manager Joe Maddon said. "He's been so consistent and he's pitched like an absolute ace. He had really good stuff and finished strong. He can throw a strike when he wants to. He's becoming that guy, and he's just getting better."

The two-way sensation gave up a game-tying solo homer to rookie Jarred Kelenic on his 105th pitch in the seventh, which cost Ohtani a winning decision -- though he could get one more start in the season finale in Seattle next Sunday. Ohtani improved his ERA to 3.18 and he now has 156 strikeouts in 130 1/3 innings this year. He also has 45 homers as a hitter, which is just one behind Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Kansas City’s Salvador Perez for the MLB lead. Unsurprisingly, no player with at least 45 homers has ever struck out 150 batters as a pitcher.

Ohtani finishes the year unbeaten at home, going 6-0 with a 1.95 ERA in 13 starts. He's only the sixth starter in AL or NL history to make at least 13 home starts without a losing decision and an ERA below 2.00 in a season (excluding openers). He joins Dallas Keuchel (2015), José Fernández (2013), Kenny Rogers (1998), Orel Hershiser (1985) and Tex Hughson (1944). Ohtani's home ERA is also the lowest by an Angels starter since Jered Weaver (2011).

"There are a few factors for me," Ohtani said through an interpreter. "There's the fans cheering for me, which gives me a lot of energy and confidence. And I'm used to the mound and the stadium atmosphere. I think it's natural to have better numbers at home."

Ultimately, however, it was the 82nd loss for the Angels, who have now gone through six straight losing seasons. Under team control through the 2023 season, Ohtani called it “frustrating” and “disappointing,” and said the Angels have yet to engage him in extension talks.

"I really like the team, I love the fans and the atmosphere as a team,” Ohtani said. “But more than that, I want to win. That's the biggest thing for me. I'll leave it at that."

The right-hander gave up a leadoff single to J.P. Crawford on his 10th pitch to open the game, but he didn’t give up another hit until the fifth on an infield single from Abraham Toro. Kelenic then singled with one out before Ohtani escaped the jam by getting both Tom Murphy and Jake Bauers to fly out to left. He was in a similar situation in the sixth with two on and one out, and responded by striking out Mitch Haniger and getting Toro to fly out to center.

Ohtani came back out for the seventh at 98 pitches and punched out Jake Fraley looking for his 10th strikeout of the game. Kelenic then followed with a homer on a 1-1 slider to level the contest. Ohtani managed to get through the rest of the inning and was relieved by lefty José Quijada in the eighth.

"I was pretty satisfied with [my start], outside of the home run that I gave up,” Ohtani said. “I had some innings with runners on base, but I was able to work out of it. So, overall, I felt good."

Ohtani, who tripled twice and walked twice on Saturday, went 1-for-3 at the plate on Sunday with a single. He was due up second in the eighth inning, but he didn’t move to the outfield to get one more at-bat after pitching. Quijada and Austin Warren combined to allow four runs in the frame.

“He had thrown 112 pitches so I didn’t want to do it,” Maddon said of putting Ohtani in the outfield. “If we were in the race and this was to get us to the playoffs, I probably would’ve done something like that. But under the circumstances, I didn’t think it was prudent to do something like that.”