Sho's dramatic blast (No. 35!) sets up Angels' walk-off over Yanks

July 18th, 2023

ANAHEIM -- knew it was gone as soon as it hit the bat.

And after connecting on a 1-2 fastball from Yankees reliever Michael King on Monday night, the two-way superstar took a moment to watch it sail over the left-center-field fence before flicking his right hand to unleash the biggest bat flip of his Major League career. Ohtani was clearly pumped up by his MLB-leading 35th home run of the year, which tied the game in the seventh inning. It was Ohtani's MLB-best 14th HR in the seventh inning or later.

Per OptaSTATS, Ohtani has hit as many homers in the seventh inning or later over his past 28 games (12) as any other MLB player has hit total during that time (since June 12). That's the most home runs in the seventh inning or later over a span of 28 games in MLB history.

It proved to be crucial, and made it count even further by delivering a walk-off RBI single to lift the Angels to a 4-3 win in 10 innings at Angel Stadium.

“It was the most emotion I've seen on the field I’ve seen from him,” Angels manager Phil Nevin said. “It was awesome. Just an incredible deal there. When your superstar steps up in moments like that and something like that happens, it’s not only what it does for the whole place but what it does for the dugout.

“It was just a cool moment for our club. And for us to come out on top, it wasn’t wasted.”

It was the third straight game with a homer for Ohtani, who has surpassed his total of 34 homers last season. It was also his 35th blast through the Angels’ first 95 games this season, which is right in line with what Yankees slugger Aaron Judge did last season. Judge went deep 36 times through New York’s first 95 games en route to setting the AL record with 62 homers and finishing ahead of Ohtani in the balloting for AL MVP.

But Judge has been limited to 49 games this season after spraining his right big toe in early June and Ohtani is the runaway favorite to win the AL MVP Award for a second time in three seasons. And, of course, Ohtani is set to be a free agent after the season -- and whether the Angels ultimately deal him at the Aug. 1 Trade Deadline is the talk of baseball.

The Angels are still considered unlikely to trade Ohtani, and Nevin noted that it’s Ohtani’s intense desire to win that sparked his emotions after his game-changing homer.

“What I can tell you about him is he cares,” Nevin said. “Everything he does is calculated to be the best player in the world for the purpose of winning. It’s been frustrating for him the last two weeks, as it’s been for everybody. But he wants to win and he wants to win here.”

The two-run homer was the third hit of the game for Ohtani, who doubled in the third inning and fell just one hit short of the cycle for the seventh time this season. He has a slash line of .306/.391/.677 with 35 homers, 16 doubles, six triples, 11 stolen bases and 75 RBIs in 93 games.

King could only tip his cap to Ohtani when asked about the blast and the bat flip after the game.

“I wish it wasn’t at my expense, but he’s an incredible hitter,” King said. “We knew, as a team, that we didn’t want him to be the one to beat us. Unfortunately, I got greedy in a two-strike count and tried to make a better pitch than I needed to. I can’t let him be the one that beat us, and I did today. And if you're going to tie the game that late, you can do whatever you want."

Ohtani had a chance to play hero again in the ninth but led off the inning by striking out on three pitches against lefty reliever Nick Ramirez. Ohtani also grabbed at his back after an awkward swing at a slider for the third strike. Nevin, though, said Ohtani didn’t hurt himself and was fine after the game.

“He just swings hard,’ Nevin said. “He’s always got little twitches. He’s fine.”

Ohtani remains tentatively scheduled to make his next start on the mound on Friday against the Pirates, but he has been dealing with a fingernail/blister issue his past three starts. Ohtani’s right middle finger has been sensitive during those outings, especially against the Padres on July 4, but it clearly hasn’t affected him at the plate.

“So far, Shohei’s good,” Nevin said. “The finger wasn’t as nearly as bad as it was in San Diego. The nail causes a little bit of an issue with his skin. There was a little crack. But it’s better, and we got him a sleeve and last time he threw, he said it was better.”