ANAHEIM -- Shohei Ohtani made history yet again on Wednesday, as the two-way star set the record for the most homers in a season by a Japanese-born player in the Major Leagues, as he passed Hideki Matsui with his 32nd blast.
Ohtani got all of it, as he hammered a 2-2 changeup from lefty Eduardo Rodriguez a Statcast-projected 433 feet to right field to give the Angels a 3-2 lead in the fifth. The Halos hung on for a 5-4 win in the series finale to move two games over .500 at 44-42. His latest blast had an exit velocity of 114.5 mph, and Matsui issued a statement shortly after his record was broken.
“Thirty-two home runs in a season is just a passing point for a hitter like Shohei,” Matsui said. “I was once considered a long ball hitter in the Majors, but I believe that he truly is a long ball hitter. Furthermore, he is an amazing pitcher. He exceeds what is considered conventional for a Major League player and there is no one else like him. I hope he continues his success this season as he carries the hopes and dreams of many fans and young children. As a baseball fan myself, I can’t wait to see what he is able to do next.”
Incredibly, Ohtani set the record in his 81st game this season, while Matsui played in 162 games with the Yankees when he set the previous mark with 31 homers in 2004. And Ohtani’s homer also came after he threw seven strong innings in a win on Tuesday night, while also going 1-for-3 with an RBI double at the plate.
Ohtani, who went 2-for-4 and scored two runs, also did it after fouling pitches off his right foot and left knee, showing off his toughness, but he said after the game he was fine physically and was simply excited to break Matsui’s record.
"I watched him growing up as a child," Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. "So it's a huge honor to pass Matsui."
It’s been part of an amazing run for Ohtani, who has 15 homers in his last 20 games and is set to participate in the T-Mobile Home Run Derby on Monday, while also pulling double duty in the All-Star Game on Tuesday at Colorado’s Coors Field.
Ohtani also became the first player in Major League history to have at least 32 homers and 12 stolen bases before the All-Star break. Ohtani's 32 homers before the break is tied for 13th in Major League history and the Angels still have three games remaining against the Mariners this weekend. Barry Bonds holds the all-time record with 39 homers before the break in 2001.
Ohtani's start on the mound on Tuesday was also his last one before the Midsummer Classic, and he heads into the break with a 3.49 ERA with 87 strikeouts in 67 innings over 13 starts. He’s also batting .279/.364/.700 with 54 extra-base hits, 69 RBIs and 63 runs scored in 81 games.
"We're talking about a special baseball player,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “I'm really curious to find out what he's going to do in the second half. Because we'll have Mike [Trout] sitting back there, too. I can't emphasize it enough, but the reason why he's hitting so many homers is his newfound ability not to expand the strike zone. That's where all the power is. And when the band gets back together, the protection increases."
Fellow All-Star Jared Walsh followed Ohtani's fifth-inning homer with a solo shot to center to give the Angels a two-run lead. It was the fourth time this season that the Halos hit back-to-back blasts.
Walsh added a second homer in the seventh off lefty reliever Darwinzon Hernandez, giving him 22 on the season in 84 games. Of Walsh’s 22 blasts, only seven have come off lefties, but he did it twice on Wednesday.
“He's different,” Maddon said. “Just shake his hand and you're going to walk away hurting. He has really, really strong hands. And he's learning to cope with lefties better."
Walsh's 22 homers are the third most by an Angels first baseman before the All-Star break, behind Albert Pujols' 26 in 2015 and Mo Vaughn's 23 in 2000. And it's only the third time in franchise history that the club has had two players with at least 22 homers before the break, joining Trout and Pujols in 2015 and Garret Anderson, Troy Glaus and Vaughn in 2000.
"Pretty special,” Maddon said. “And they did it against left-handed pitching today, which is really, really important. Walshy's done really well. He's been hitting good left-handed pitching and not just pedestrian lefties. It really changes a lot of things going forward regarding what we can do with our lineup."