ANAHEIM -- After hitting a game-tying, two-run double off the left-center-field wall with two outs in the ninth inning of the Angels’ unlikely come-from-behind win over the Nationals on Sunday, Shohei Ohtani said he believed his swing was finally getting close to where he wanted it to be after a relatively slow start to the year offensively.
Ohtani’s premonition turned out to be true, as the two-way star smacked two homers, including his first career grand slam, to lead the Angels to an 11-3 win over the Rays in Monday’s series opener at Angel Stadium. It was the eighth multihomer game of Ohtani’s career and his second this season. Surprisingly, he also never hit a grand slam during his five seasons with the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan, so this marked his first as a professional.
"He's always been an honest person, right?" Angels manager Joe Maddon said. "He has looked better. The ball has gone to left-center. He was just getting beneath everything, but now the angle is better off the bat. Wow, if we can keep him right there for several months."
Ohtani, the reigning American League MVP, had been working hard to hit the ball the other way in recent games in an effort to get out of a recent funk, and it’s starting to pay dividends. Both of his homers went to the opposite field and helped him tie a career high with five RBIs.
"Shohei is going to get his swing going and the last couple games he's shown that,” said Mike Trout, who homered in the sixth. “If he's hitting the ball the other way like that, that's Shohei. He doesn't need to pull the ball all the time.”
With his 3-for-4 performance against Tampa Bay, Ohtani is hitting .252/.315/.445 with six homers, five doubles, four stolen bases and 21 RBIs in 30 games. He batted .257/.372/.592 last year during his MVP season, but it's also worth noting the league average OPS was .728 last year but has dropped to .676 this year.
Ohtani, though, said he’s been having even more fun this year than last season, as the Angels are in first place and have joined the Yankees and Mets as the only clubs with 20 wins so far this year.
"I'm definitely having the most fun right now,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “I'm not having the best offensive year right now but the team is winning, which is the most important thing. We're going to try to continue the hot streak."
His first blast came in the sixth inning off lefty Jalen Beeks and on a first-pitch cutter, right after a two-run blast from fellow superstar Trout, marking the first time the Angels hit back-to-back homers in a game this season. It was also the fourth time they’ve hit consecutive homers and the first time since June 8, 2019, against the Mariners.
"I wasn't really sitting on any particular pitch,” Ohtani said. “The ball was in the zone and I put a good swing on it. Trout set the tone the previous at-bat with that home run."
The grand slam came in the seventh against right-hander Calvin Faucher, who was making his Major League debut. Faucher walked Trout with the bases loaded to bring home a run and Ohtani got ahead with a 3-1 count. Faucher threw a cutter right over the middle and Ohtani absolutely crushed it to left-center to put the Angels up 11-3.
Ohtani, though, didn’t realize it was his first career homer with the bases loaded.
"Honestly, I didn't know it was my first one,” Ohtani said. “I thought I had hit one in Japan."
Ohtani is also set to be honored in a pregame ceremony on Tuesday with several of the awards he won during the 2021 season, including the AL MVP Award, the Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award, the Silver Slugger Award, the Edgar Martinez Award as the top designated hitter and All-MLB First and Second Team plaques.
And he's slated to make his sixth start of the season on the mound on Wednesday and is coming off one of the best starts of his career, striking out 11 over seven innings against the Red Sox on Thursday. He's posted a 3.08 ERA with 41 strikeouts in 26 1/3 innings as a pitcher.
Ohtani is also just one homer away from reaching No. 100 in his five-year career.
“The sooner, the better,” Ohtani said. “Hopefully, it happens tomorrow.”