'A brilliant night:' Sho doubles twice, fans 8

Two-way star brushes off foul ball off knee to help lift Halos

June 12th, 2021

PHOENIX -- rolled up his right pant leg and inspected his knee. He removed his shin guard, walked through the visitors’ dugout at Chase Field and retreated down the tunnel.

Only minutes earlier, Ohtani fouled a 93.2 mph cutter from D-backs starter Merrill Kelly off his right knee and went down in the batter’s box. The Angels’ two-way star was checked out by the trainer and tested how he felt with a quick jog. Then, he lasered a double. And he stayed in to run the bases, too, even if he may not have been feeling 100 percent.

But Ohtani wasn’t only the No. 2 batter on Friday night. He was also Los Angeles’ starting pitcher. So, the question remained -- would Ohtani come back out to the mound following that sequence in the top of the third?

He did, and he received a roaring ovation from the large contingent of Angels fans in attendance when he emerged from the dugout and strolled back to the mound. Ohtani immediately returned to dealing, as he fanned eight over five strong innings, to go with a 2-for-4 performance at the plate, in Los Angeles’ 6-5, 10-inning win over Arizona.

“It is pretty stiff right now,” Ohtani said, through an interpreter, of his knee afterward. “But during the game, I don’t feel like it affected my game too much.”

This season, Ohtani has showcased many of his impressive attributes -- his prodigious home-run power, his high-velocity fastball and his hustle on the basepaths. On this night, he displayed his toughness and his competitive edge.

Four pitches after Ohtani fouled a ball off his knee, he extended the Angels’ lead to 2-0 with a double to right-center field that came off the bat at 114.9 mph, per Statcast. He then came in to score on an Anthony Rendon single that capped Los Angeles’ three-run third.

After retiring seven of Arizona’s first eight batters, Ohtani encountered trouble on the hill in the third and fourth, as the D-backs had runners on second and third in both innings. Ohtani fanned Asdrúbal Cabrera to get out of the third, then he struck out Carson Kelly and Nick Ahmed to again escape unscathed in the fourth.

“When he is faced with a dilemma, he turns up that dial,” Halos manager Joe Maddon said. “The velocity shows up, he throws even more strikes. Love it. Absolutely love it. He’s out there, he knows exactly what he’s doing at all times. I mean, exactly. An incredible athlete with a high acumen. So he dials it up and he gets tougher when it matters. Pretty much a brilliant night for Shohei.”

When Ohtani got Ahmed to swing through an 81.5 mph slider in the fourth, he pumped his first while walking off the field. That wouldn’t be the last time Ohtani showed his emotion, either.

In the fifth, Ohtani again faced heavy base traffic as the D-backs had runners on first and second with two outs. After retiring Cabrera, Ohtani committed the first balk of his MLB career while facing Eduardo Escobar, moving the runners to second and third. Then, he committed his second, still facing Escobar, allowing Josh Rojas to score from third for Arizona’s first run. Ohtani showed and voiced his disagreement with the pair of calls.

“You like that. You like to see that fire and that competitiveness,” said Angels catcher Kurt Suzuki, who went 3-for-3 with a homer and reached base five times (with two HBP). “Shohei’s a pretty quiet guy and I tell people, 'When he steps in between the lines, man, he’s a different person,' and you saw that tonight. The guy battles and competes.”

Ohtani allowed a second run in the fifth when he struck out Escobar, but a wild pitch brought in Ketel Marte from third. He fanned David Peralta to end the inning and complete his outing.

While Ohtani said he felt he was hanging his breaking pitches too much -- the reason he relied heavily on his splitter, throwing it 16 times -- Suzuki was impressed with everything that Ohtani was throwing.

“He was feeling it tonight,” Suzuki said. “He was throwing hard, fastballs moving all over the place, splits were really good, threw some good sliders. It’s always a treat to see what Shohei’s going to do on a night he plays, or he pitches.”

Ohtani played an inning in right field in the sixth, allowing the Halos to keep his bat in the lineup for an additional at-bat. That decision paid off when Ohtani ripped another double in the seventh, part of a rally in which Los Angeles took a 5-4 lead when Justin Upton scored on a wild pitch.

The Angels’ bullpen couldn’t keep the lead after Ohtani’s departure, and closer Raisel Iglesias gave up a game-tying homer to Eduardo Escobar with the D-backs down to their final strike. But Los Angeles pulled out the win in the 10th on Max Stassi’s RBI groundout and a shutdown inning by Steve Cishek and Alex Claudio.

“For me,” Maddon said, “one of my favorite signs of a really solid group is when you win in extra innings on the road.”