Ohtani’s 37th HR jump-starts Halos’ surge

July 29th, 2021

ANAHEIM -- The Angels’ lineup needed a jolt. And who else but to provide the surge of power that electrified Angel Stadium in Wednesday's 8-7 series finale victory over the Rockies.

After smashing a two-run home run in Tuesday’s loss, Ohtani upped the ante and crushed a three-run blast in the fourth inning that gave Los Angeles a 4-3 lead. It was his third homer since the start of the second half, a testament to his consistent power and ability to stay within himself at the plate.

“I'm just basing it off everything I saw last year when he wasn't as consistent. He did so much good work over the wintertime,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Now, when he's accepting the walks and he's not expanding the strike zone, it’s playing the game.”

Ohtani was able to put the Angels ahead with two outs when right-hander Jesus Tinoco left a fastball over the middle of the plate, only for the two-way wonder to pull it 388 feet to right field. Jack Mayfield and David Fletcher scored on the blast, while Angel Stadium erupted in "MVP" chants as Ohtani rounded the bases.

“I was targeting center field since we had guys on first and second, it could’ve been a single and not a home run,” Ohtani said. “I went in thinking that I wanted to hit, just wanted to get some runs scored. I’m glad it was a home run.”

Ohtani's home run was clocked at 113.1 mph by Statcast -- it was the ninth long ball he has hit this season that had an exit velocity of at least 113 mph, two more than any other player. The big fly was also Ohtani's 37th of the season, further extending his MLB lead. Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is in a distant second place with 32 home runs and San Diego's Fernando Tatis Jr. is in third with 31.

While the fourth-inning blast ignited the home crowd, it also nudged the Angels’ offense. Justin Upton followed suit with a two-run homer that capped off a five-run fourth inning. Max Stassi then had his turn with a solo shot in the fifth.

“He inspires them, there's no question. None of us have ever seen this kind of player here, who does both sides of the ball,” Maddon said of Ohtani’s influence in the lineup. “I mean, Mike Trout did a lot of this in the past, very similar, but again, we're also adding in the pitching component of it.”

Though he wasn’t on the mound, Ohtani had his hand in pivotal plays throughout the night. The Angels were working out of a deficit when the Rockies scored two runs in the first inning against starter Andrew Heaney. Colorado’s lead was cut in half when Ohtani singled and then scored via José Igeslias’ single in the bottom half of the inning.

Colorado later rallied against the Angels' bullpen and tied the game at 7 when Brendan Rodgers hit an RBI single to left that scored Joshua Fuentes in the top of the eighth. The Angels took the lead for good in the next half inning with the help of Ohtani, who kept the line moving with a walk before Phil Gosselin hit a go-ahead RBI single.

“He even offered the bunt one time, I loved it,” Maddon said. “Of course, I wanted him to hit right there, but I just knew that a walk would mean even more. He used his 'A' hack a lot.

“They throw the pitch where he likes it -- you're not always going to hit it -- but when you get that kind swinging, there's a lot of damage that can be done. Not everybody can get the swing off every time they like the pitch. And that's what he's doing.”

As the Angels claimed the series win and inched back over .500, it's notable that they notched 10 hits from eight spots in the lineup. The club has found ways to stay afloat without several key players in Trout, Anthony Rendon and Jared Walsh. But the guidance from Ohtani has helped lead a young group of players who are getting a chance to shine as Los Angeles tries to make a playoff push.

“It's interesting. It's wonderful. When we get the whole band back together, it'll be interesting to watch,” Maddon said. “But he definitely is inspirational to the rest of the group. And he does it in a very humble way.”