Whoa! Ohtani's best game yet? 40th HR, 8 IP

Two-way star wows Tigers with MVP form: 'It doesn't feel real'

August 19th, 2021

DETROIT -- It was at his most efficient on the mound, and he also crushed his Major League-leading 40th homer of the year for good measure against the Tigers on Wednesday night.

Ohtani continued to build his case for the American League MVP Award, setting a career high by throwing eight innings and also smacking a solo homer in the eighth to lead the Angels to a 3-1 win at Comerica Park.

Ohtani's previous career-high was 7 2/3 innings against the Rays on May 20, 2018, and his season high was seven innings, set three times this year. He also became the first left-handed hitter in Angels history to reach 40 homers, surpassing Reggie Jackson’s total of 39 in 1982. And he became just the fourth AL pitcher to throw at least eight innings and hit a homer in a game since the DH was instituted in 1973, joining Jon Garland (June 18, 2006), Kris Benson (June 17, 2006) and Bobby Witt (June 30, 1997).

"What can you possibly say that hasn't already been said?" Angels manager Joe Maddon said. "He wasn't looking for the punchout early, and later in the game his stuff kept building. I would've sent him out for the ninth, but he was fatigued. But it worked out well, obviously. He gave up a homer on a hanging slider, but I think in the worst way, he wanted to get that run back, and he did with a prodigious blast to right field. The superlatives, I mean just give this man credit. He's a unique athlete, and he's special to watch."

Ohtani needed just 90 pitches to record 24 outs -- and 69 pitches were thrown for strikes -- as he filled up the strike zone all night. The lone run he allowed came on a solo shot from Willi Castro on a first-pitch curveball in the fifth. Ohtani struck out eight and didn't walk a batter for the fifth time in 18 starts this season. But he didn’t get the ninth inning, as closer Raisel Iglesias was brought in and picked up his 27th save to tie for the AL lead.

Ohtani, though, was fine with the decision, and Maddon said it wasn’t worth the risk to bring him back out there fatigued.

“I'm never satisfied unless I go the distance,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “But I was letting it eat from the sixth inning on, so I got a little tired. And we have a great closer in Iglesias."

Ohtani has been on a roll on the mound, posting a 1.58 ERA in six starts dating back to July 6. It’s helped him lower his ERA to 2.79 on the year with 120 strikeouts in 100 innings. Maddon believes Ohtani, who improved to 8-1, should get consideration for the AL Cy Young Award as well.

"Making a case? Absolutely," Maddon said. "He's in the middle of everything. Every award that's going to be given out, he's in the middle of it."

He also served as the Angels' leadoff hitter and was 0-for-3 with a strikeout heading into his at-bat in the eighth against right-handed reliever José Cisnero. Ohtani then gave himself an insurance run with an absolute moonshot to deep right field. He hammered an 0-1 slider that left the bat at 110.1 mph and went a projected 430 feet, per Statcast.

“He's an incredible, special talent, and we got to witness it, unfortunately at the expense of us,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “He was dominant on the mound, hit his 40th homer. He clearly was in charge of the game tonight. So if you take the competition away and the agony of losing, it's just incredible to see what he's doing and a real big piece of why baseball's great."

Ohtani broke the record for the most homers in a season by a Japanese-born player in the Major Leagues when he passed Hideki Matsui with his 32nd dinger back in July. The AL MVP favorite has a chance at becoming the Angels' single-season home run leader if he keeps this up. Troy Glaus holds the record with 47 homers, which he accomplished in 2000.

It was Ohtani’s first homer since Saturday and his third in 18 games in August. It was also just his second as a pitcher this season, as he also memorably went deep against the White Sox in his first outing of the year on April 4.

"At that point I wasn't sure if I was going to go back out or not," Ohtani said of his eighth-inning blast. "So I wanted to get that insurance run. It was huge for me and the team."

Even the Tigers fans in attendance -- hoping to witness Miguel Cabrera join the 500-homer club -- couldn’t help but cheer Ohtani as he reached home plate on his homer, and opposing players remain in awe of what he’s been able to do this season.

"What he's doing on the mound, and then what he does at the plate, it's unbelievable to watch,” Tigers lefty Tarik Skubal said. “For him to do it all year long, lead the league in home runs and have like a 2.70 ERA, it's not real. It doesn't feel real. He's a great player."