Ohtani's 'inventive' gem not enough vs. A's

July 20th, 2021

OAKLAND -- As stepped up for his third plate appearance on Monday, a cacophony filled Oakland Coliseum. There were cheers. There were boos. There were allegations of Ohtani’s talent being improperly evaluated at too high of a level (i.e. overrated).

Regardless of affiliation, Ohtani played the showman and dazzled in said role in the Angels’ 4-1 loss to the A’s, tossing six shutout innings with eight strikeouts and ripping a double to center field. All in all, just another day for the two-way star.

“Special. Very special, man” said manager Joe Maddon. “He rose to the occasion again.”

Ohtani’s night, as most of his nights, was electric and packed with highlights, but the most interesting aspect in his game was subtle. For from a stylistic perspective, Ohtani’s start could essentially be split into two contrasting halves, both of which served to further exhibit his raw power and baseball intellect.

In the first three innings, Ohtani’s mix of pitches was generally ordinary, primarily featuring fastballs, sliders and cutters. And as Ohtani is wont to do when his back is up against the wall, he brought the gas when he needed a boost.

Ohtani found himself navigating runners on second and third with one out in the third, and to escape unscathed, he reared back. Ohtani struck out Elvis Andrus and got Matt Olson to ground out, with six of his final eight pitches being at least 98 mph, lest anyone forget he’s capable of cranking it up on command.

But in the same way he can tap into the velocity, he can veer away from it.

From the third inning onward, Ohtani was almost an entirely different pitcher. He threw more sliders (14) than fastballs (11), mixing in a healthy amount of cutters (7), curveballs (7) and splitters (5). This mid-game shift was Ohtani’s doing, one that was a product of nothing more than intuition.

“He just has great feel,” Maddon said. “He’ll watch what’s going on, he’ll watch the hitter. I know he’s thinking along with them all the time and he has so many tools in the toolbox that he could draw on different methods.”

Ohtani said the switch was a product of what he saw. He internalized how Oakland’s hitters reacted to his stuff, and based on what he saw and felt, he hit the A’s with a counter.

The decision worked. In his final three innings, Ohtani only allowed one baserunner, a harmless single to Olson. At one point, he struck out four straight, all swinging. Distilled down to one word, Ohtani’s start was, to Maddon, “inventive.”

The soft stuff helped generate one of the more memorable images of Ohtani’s evening. In the matchup against Kemp, Ohtani threw a 2-1 slider in the dirt. Kemp began to swing, but held up, letting the pitch go for a ball. While Kemp had won that miniature battle within the at-bat, Ohtani’s slider had him so off-balance that he nearly stumbled all the way out of the dirt circle.

“He watches what’s going on in front of him,” Maddon said. “He’s able to make myriad adjustments during the course of the game and he does. And he does it in a way that’s very unique and cannot be more unique.”

Unique, of course, is the tried-and-true adjective to describe Ohtani, equally adept in the batter’s box as outside of it.

Ohtani lined a 115.9 mph double in the third inning and nearly plated David Fletcher, who was thrown out at the plate on Oakland’s perfect relay. Upon completing his work as a pitcher, Ohtani moved to right field so he could hit one more time -- he popped out -- adding a couple more innings as an outfielder under his belt.

It was from right field that Ohtani would watch Oakland score the game’s deciding runs. Steve Cishek, who came on to relieve Ohtani and hadn’t allowed a run in nearly a month, walked the first two batters he faced before allowing the tie-breaking three-run home run to Ramón Laureano, giving Oakland the lead it would never relinquish.

To lose despite Ohtani’s performance is the nature of the game. One player, regardless of how many roles he undertakes, is only in control of so many of countless variables.

But even on a night when the Angels fell short, Ohtani further solidified his uniqueness, playing both sides and getting creative.