ST. PETERSBURG -- Brad Ausmus smiled as he recalled watching Shohei Ohtani in the two-way star's first professional season with the Angels. It wasn’t long ago, but it definitely feels that way.
“If you go back to Spring Training 2018, when he arrived, I knew that the power was there, that he had as much power as pretty much any hitter I’d seen,” the Halos' first-year manager said. “The consistent hitting, I wasn’t sure about.
“I thought he’d hit, but I didn’t think he’d hit like this.”
Ohtani is only in his sophomore season, but he is playing far beyond his years. Just when it seemed as though everything that could be written about the him had been done, he added to an already-electric storyline on Thursday night by hitting for the cycle in the Angels’ 5-3 win over the Rays at Tropicana Field.
"I’m simply very happy that I was able to accomplish this,” said Ohtani, the first Japanese-born player to achieve the feat in MLB, through an interpreter. “There have been so many other great Japanese players that have come before me. Being the first one to accomplish it, I’m really happy and it’s going to lead to a lot of confidence down the road.”
It marked the eighth cycle in Angels history, and the first since Mike Trout completed the feat May 21, 2013, against the Mariners. According to Trout, Ohtani did it the smarter way.
“It’s tough; I needed a homer, and he needed a single,” Trout said with a chuckle. “He got the three hardest ones out of the way, and then obviously got that single. [I’m] just happy for him. He was excited, I was excited.”
Ohtani homered in the first inning, his eighth round-tripper of the year. The three-run shot got the Halos on the board and set the tone for a wild game to come. The 24-year-old star followed that up with a third-inning double.
Then, the power went out in the bottom of the fourth. Not Ohtani’s, of course, but a fire at a substation in St. Petersburg cut off power to the entire downtown area -- which included Tropicana Field -- for 36 minutes. When all the lights finally flickered full again, Ohtani got the hardest part of his feat out of the way with a picture-perfect triple into the right-field corner.
It was Ohtani’s third career triple and first of the season, and it was made even better when Albert Pujols hit a home run -- the 200th of his Angels career -- behind him to extend the Angels’ lead to 5-0 in the fifth. The boost came in plenty handy when the Rays scored three runs in the bottom of the inning to cut their deficit to two.
By the time Ohtani strode to the plate in the seventh, there was no doubt what was about to happen. Rays reliever Hunter Wood battled during an eight-pitch at-bat, but Ohtani eventually earned the victory with a line-drive single that dropped neatly into shallow center field.
“I wasn’t necessarily trying to hit a single,” Ohtani said. “I was just trying to get on base, whether it was a base on balls or any other way, because it was still a close game.”
Ohtani’s cycle was the second in MLB this season. The Twins’ Jorge Polanco recorded the first on April 5.
While the record-setting accomplishment was surely the highlight for Ohtani who, along with his interpreter, was given a celebratory postgame beer shower, the four-hit performance emphasized the larger picture that continues to grow every time he steps on the field.
With the pitching portion of his budding career on hold this season following Tommy John surgery, Ohtani is still full-speed ahead at the plate. Thursday marked the fourth time in his career that he’d homered in consecutive games. Six of his past nine hits have been for extra bases, and he’s driven in 18 runs over his past 16 games.
The Angels had only six hits, and Ohtani was responsible for a career-high-tying four. He’s slashing .529/.556/1.294 with two doubles, a triple, three homers and six RBIs over his past five games.
“He’s starting to lock it in, and it’s really exciting,” said Angels starter Tyler Skaggs, who recorded the win. “He’s looking like he’s the Ohtani of last year, and it’s very special.
“Very rarely do you see someone hit for the cycle, so I’m happy to be, one, pitching the game, and two, just being part of it.”
While Ohtani has accomplished more at 24 years old than many baseball players do their entire careers, Ausmus cautioned it’s also necessary to keep his designated hitter’s age in perspective. So, while Ohtani continues tearing up the basepaths, it’s worth a reminder that less than two years ago, he moved across the world to a completely new country to pursue a dream. He’s also less than a year removed from Tommy John surgery, and he has an enormous media contingent analyzing every move he makes.
He’s handling all that with grace, and smashing records while doing so.
“He carries a lot on his shoulders,” Ausmus said, “but he still stands pretty tall.”