ANAHEIM -- No one in Major League Baseball today is capable of putting his team on his back like Shohei Ohtani is, because no one in Major League Baseball today is capable of doing what Shohei Ohtani does.
And Ohtani did it all for the Angels on Thursday at Angel Stadium, hitting a go-ahead two-run home run and throwing seven electric innings in a 5-2 win over the Red Sox to salvage the finale of the four-game set. The victory brought an end to the Angels’ 14-game losing streak, the longest in franchise history.
“I had a couple chances to stop the losing streak on the mound, but I wasn’t able to do that,” said Ohtani through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “I was glad to be able to do it today.”
On the mound, Ohtani brought the heat, averaging 98.1 mph on his four-seamer, up 1 mph from his season average. He also threw his hardest pitch of the year so far, a 101 mph fastball to strike out Rafael Devers and end the third; it was the hardest strikeout pitch of his career. In all, he allowed six baserunners (four hits, two walks) while fanning six.
“With [Ohtani], it's really the body language and to see how the swings are on him, and they weren't taking a lot of good swings,” said interim manager Phil Nevin, who picked up his first win as a Major League manager and was presented the game ball by Ohtani. “But he does have that next gear, and he found it a few times tonight.”
After allowing the game’s first run in the top of the fifth, Ohtani responded in a big way in the bottom half of the frame. With one out, Juan Lagares singled, and Ohtani followed by crushing a ball to center field for his first of two hits on the night. It was his 12th homer of the season and his first since May 29, when he hit two against the Blue Jays. The homerless drought spanned nine games and 44 plate appearances.
The home run changed the tone of the game dramatically. Ohtani worked out of a jam in the top of the sixth, then got some extra backing in the bottom of the inning on Andrew Velazquez’s three-run home run.
“I think we’ve just been missing something like that, something to swing our way,” said Velazquez. “We’ve been having good at-bats the past few nights, I think, just hitting balls right at people, [and] having good pitching performances and then not scoring runs. Everything that could go wrong has been going wrong. But tonight, Shohei kind of took matters into his own hands, and then we got the big hit.”
Velazquez’s homer was much-needed insurance, given that the Angels had blown leads in the seventh inning or later six times in the last 14 games. The bullpen was able to hold onto this one, allowing the Halos to light up the Big A for the first time in more than two weeks.
It’s not going to get easier for the Angels from here, with their next five games coming against first-place teams. They open a three-game set with the Mets at home on Friday, then head up the road for two Freeway Series games against the Dodgers starting Tuesday. But getting back in the win column was a major step in the right direction for a team that still has playoff aspirations.
“For the last [14 games], they've come in every day expecting to win,” said Nevin. “It's been the same attitude, it's been the same atmosphere in the clubhouse, it really has. And when you come in after the game, you see the pain on their faces, and I know it's hurting them. And that means a heck of a lot to the staff and myself, because they care. They really do.”