Energized by fans, Ohtani leads Halos to win

June 18th, 2021

ANAHEIM -- Two-way star seemingly does something incredible each time he takes the field. His latest feat was playing the role of stopper for the Angels to halt a three-game losing streak and restore some much-needed momentum.

Making his 10th start of the season, Ohtani electrified the crowd at Angel Stadium in the first game that saw the ballpark return to full capacity since 2019. Ohtani went six innings, allowing one run on five hits and a walk with five strikeouts in a 7-5 win in front of 30,709 frenzied fans on what was dubbed as Reopening Day.

"It definitely felt good pitching in front of a lot of people," Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. "It gives me energy and confidence on the mound and at the plate. And the win was obviously huge. We had been playing well, winning six in a row going into Oakland and we unfortunately got swept. But if we keep playing like we did during the winning streak, I feel like we could do a lot of good things."

Ohtani, though, was surprisingly lifted after 78 pitches and six innings, manager Joe Maddon opting to bring in lefty Tony Watson for the seventh despite the fact that Watson gave up six runs without recording an out in Wednesday’s disheartening 8-4 loss to the A’s.

Watson promptly gave up a double off the wall in right-center to Niko Goodrum on his second pitch but escaped the jam, including getting Goodrum out in a nearly botched 1-5-2-6-3-6-5 rundown between third base and home for the second out.

Maddon explained he was simply being cautious with Ohtani, as he had aggressively run the bases, including three straight steal attempts on foul balls, and made a few defensive plays as well.

“He was very active, right around 80 pitches, and I thought six full innings was a pretty significant day's work for him,” Maddon said. “It is still June and I want this guy to have one of the greatest seasons ever. And so you don't want to jeopardize his overall health. What he's doing out there is not just pitching.”

The Angels then broke out for five runs in the bottom of the inning, keyed by a grand slam from Taylor Ward. The insurance runs helped preserve the win for Ohtani, who improved to 3-1 with a 2.70 ERA with 73 strikeouts, 29 walks and five homers allowed in 53 1/3 innings. He also batted for himself, going 0-for-1 with two walks and is hitting .270/.354/.615 with 19 homers and 47 RBIs in 64 games this season.

Ohtani's velocity was up compared to his recent starts -- his fastball averaged 95.9 mph and touched 98.6 mph -- but he threw more sliders than usual and mostly stayed away from his splitter, which is his best pitch. Ohtani threw 32 sliders, 30 four-seamers, 10 splitters, five curves and a cutter and registered just six swings and misses on the night. But he located his slider for a called strike 11 times and pitched more to contact, as he said he wanted to mix it up a bit this time around.

"I planned on throwing more sliders to lefties because my percentage of sliders against lefties was really low,” Ohtani said. “But once I started throwing it, it felt better and I just stuck with it."

He found himself in an early jam in the first with two on and one out, but escaped the inning unscathed. It did bring up his pitch count, however, as he needed 25 to get those first three outs, but he grew more efficient as the game went on.

The defense also made a few strong plays behind him, including Ward starting a perfect relay to second baseman Luis Rengifo in the second as Akil Baddoo tried to stretch a double into a triple. Rengifo threw an absolute laser to third baseman Kean Wong to get Baddoo at third for the second out.

"That was impossible,” Maddon said. “You talk about laser perfect and it was. It started with Ward and Rengifo made a picture-perfect throw to third base. But don't sleep on the tag, it was great."

Ohtani used two double play grounders to his advantage in the fourth and fifth innings. He surrendered his first run in the sixth on a solo shot to Jonathan Schoop on a 2-1 slider over the middle of the plate. Later in the inning, he made an athletic play on a grounder from Jeimer Candelario for the second out despite bobbling the ball near first base and struck out Miguel Cabrera on a 2-2 slider to end his final inning.

That was enough for Maddon, who came away pleased with yet another strong showing from Ohtani.

“Shohei kind of demonstrated all of his talents,” Maddon said. “He didn't get the ball into the stands for a homer but otherwise, he showed you a pretty complete game of baseball.”