Ohtani steals his way to more Angels history

Two-way superstar the only player in franchise history with 40-20 season (and he has two)

September 4th, 2023

OAKLAND -- Whenever draws a free pass, it's not uncommon to hear boos rain down on the field. Not directed toward him, but rather at the opposing pitcher, for not challenging the Angels' two-way superstar with something worth taking a swing at.

But Ohtani can be just as dangerous on the basepaths.

After swiping his 20th bag of 2023 in the fifth inning of Sunday's 10-6 loss, Ohtani completed the 34th 40-20 season in AL/NL history. The Angels' superstar is only the eighth player to boast multiple 40-20 seasons, joining Alex Rodriguez (four), Barry Bonds (three), Jose Canseco (three), Shawn Green (two), Ken Griffey Jr. (two), Jeff Bagwell (two) and Hank Aaron (two).

In his MVP Award-winning 2021 season, Ohtani hit 46 homers and stole 26 bases -- both career highs -- to become the first Angel to record a 40-20 campaign.

As Ohtani added another accolade to his campaign for a second AL MVP nod, the Angels were swept by the A's in three games at the Coliseum. Los Angeles has lost 22 of 30 games dating back to the Aug. 1 Trade Deadline, and Sunday's defeat came in especially heartbreaking fashion.

After the Angels jumped out to a three-run lead through five hitless innings from Tyler Anderson, the game began to spiral out of control when the A's went ahead with a four-run sixth. Luis Rengifo knotted the tally with his 15th home run in the top of the seventh, only for Oakland to pour on six runs in the bottom half of the frame.

"Anytime you lose, it's frustrating," manager Phil Nevin said. "I think the way we've lost can add to that, if you will. We didn't score enough runs the first two days, and today we had two innings unravel on us."

With four weeks remaining in the regular season, the Angels, now a non-factor in the tightly contested AL West, are playing for the future. But for Ohtani, a feat rarer than 40-20 could be in play: If he's able to reach 50 homers, he could author the fifth 50-20 season in AL/NL history.

Ohtani, however, hasn't homered since Aug. 23, the day he was shut down on the mound after an MRI revealed a tear in his right ulnar collateral ligament. He's been stuck at 44 home runs for the 10 games since then, his longest stretch without going deep since opposing pitchers kept him in the yard for the final 22 games of the 2022 campaign.

Despite the drought, Ohtani remains tied for the Major League lead in home runs with the Braves' Matt Olson, who ended a homerless stretch of his own against the Dodgers on Sunday.

Before Sunday's loss, Nevin said that he doesn't see any change in Ohtani's approach at the plate, rather that pitchers are approaching the superstar with heightened caution.

"They make one mistake -- they just haven't made many mistakes with him, either," Nevin said. "I know he's been intentionally walked quite a bit, but they haven't really made the mistake that, when they do, he hits 'em.

"But he's still giving us quality at-bats. … Just because he doesn't homer doesn't mean he hasn't made an impact on us."

Ohtani went 0-for-3 with two walks on Sunday and has drawn 13 free passes since he last homered. That tally includes a pair of intentional walks on Saturday, and Angels fans were not shy to voice their displeasure toward A's manager Mark Kotsay.

"Everybody's trying to win," Nevin said prior to Sunday's loss. "These guys are trying to win a game every day, and I don't blame Kots for walking him at all. It's the exact same thing I would do."

While Ohtani has been held homerless, Rengifo has found his power stroke of late, going deep four times during a career-high 11-game hitting streak. Rengifo is 20-for-43 (.465) during that span, after going 2-for-5 with a homer and two RBIs on Sunday.

Entering Sunday, Rengifo owned a .937 OPS after the All-Star break, up from .637 in the first half. The 26-year-old's second-half resurgence has largely coincided with the late-summer swoon that saw the Angels opt to place six players on waivers, losing five to contenders.

For Rengifo and the new-look Angels, the final month of the 2023 campaign is a time to forge ahead, in spite of their recent adversity.

"You have to continue to fight," Rengifo said, "and just play hard."