ANAHEIM -- Nineteen up, 19 down. The sold-out crowd at Angel Stadium was buzzing, chanting and screaming. The Angels' two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani was eight outs from perfection in just his second career start before a base hit in the seventh inning -- the only one Ohtani would allow all afternoon over seven scoreless innings -- ended his bid to become the 22nd pitcher to throw a perfect game.
Ohtani notched 12 strikeouts -- eight on his splitter alone -- and, aided by some first-inning run support in the form of an Jose Pujols RBI double and Kole Calhoun RBI single, shut down the A's to nab his second victory of the season, an Angels' 6-1 win over the A's.
"That's as good a game as you can see pitched," manager Mike Scioscia said.
With the win, Ohtani became the first Major League player with two wins and three home runs in his team's first 10 games since Jim Shaw for the Washington Senators in 1919.
Additionally, Ohtani became the third player to homer in three consecutive games and have a double-digit strikeout game in the same season. The first to do so? Babe Ruth in 1916.
Ohtani induced 25 swinging strikes -- the highest total in a start this year, beating Max Scherzer's 23. That was largely due to his splitter -- of which he has two varieties, one that he uses primarily against righties that cuts inside, and his main one, which dips sharply after starting its trajectory like a fastball.
It is Ohtani's best secondary pitch, but it might very well be the most lethal offspeed pitch in the Majors this season. A's hitters -- who have faced Ohtani in each of his first two career starts -- have now swung and missed on 26 out of their 37 swings against the 23-year-old's splitter: a startling 70.3 percent of the time, the highest for any MLB starting pitcher on a single pitch type this season (minimum 10 swings against that pitch).
"His splitter just kind of drops off the table," Zack Cozart said. "[It] looks like a strike I feel like almost every time, but it never is. It just drops below the zone. That's how it comes out, the same as his fastball. It makes it tough as a hitter."
Per Statcast™, Ohtani racked up 24 whiffs on 44 swings for a 54.5 percent whiff/swing rate on Sunday afternoon.
Though his splitter was deadly, being able to command his fastball -- which hit 100 mph -- was the key to setting up his secondary pitches, his catcher Martin Maldonado said. Indeed, Ohtani's fastball hit the corners of the strike zone consistently for strikes, accounting for four strikeouts of its own. Even a 68 mph curveball was able to land safely for a called strike in the wake of his well-controlled high-90s fastball.
"Without the fastball command, people wouldn't have been swinging at his splitter," Maldonado said. "I think the ability to throw the fastball wherever he wanted, made the hitter feel pressure to swing at his splitter."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Trout snaps out of slump:Michael Trout led off the third with his third home run of the season, a 440-foot shot to center field off Kendall Graveman that snapped an 0-for-14 drought and gave the Angels a 3-0 lead. The homer had an exit velocity of 109.9 mph, making it his hardest-hit ball of the season, according to Statcast™.
Angels chase Graveman: The Angels extended their lead to 5-0 by adding two more runs in the fourth. Ryan Schimpf drew a one-out walk and advanced to second on Cozart's single before scoring on Trout's bloop single to right field, which knocked Graveman out of the game. Justin Upton then brought in Cozart from third with a sacrifice fly to center off reliever Liam Hendriks.
Ohtani gets out of a seventh-inning jam: In the seventh, Ohtani gave up his first baserunner of the game, surrendering a single to Marcus Semien after falling behind in the count 2-0. Ohtani proceeded to give up a four-pitch walk to the next batter, which forced pitching coach Charles Nagy to come to the mound for a visit. Ohtani settled himself, throwing a first-pitch slider that Khris Davis rolled over on, resulting in a weak ground ball that the two-way phenom corralled and fired to first, but that put runners on second and third.
In his first sign of overt emotion all game, Ohtani proceeded to strike out Matt Olson on a 3-2 splitter to get out of the jam with his 91st and final pitch of the outing.
"I wanted to keep a clean zero on the board," Ohtani said. "One hit would have been two runs -- that's a huge difference. I wanted that strikeout and I got it."
"Don't [mess] it up." -- Maldonado, on what he was thinking as Ohtani took a perfect game into the 7th inning
"Probably my best outing ever was when I was in elementary school." -- Ohtani, on whether this was the best outing he has had in his career
"I actually told the infielders 'please get me that double play,' so that's probably why I had that smile on my face." -- Ohtani, on why he was smiling when Nagy came up for a mound visit during the seventh inning
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Pujols' double in the first inning brought home Trout for Trout's 700th career run, making him one of nine players to hit 200 home runs and scored 700 runs prior to their age-27 season, joining Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Eddie Mathews, Mel Ott and Jimmie Foxx.
The Angels will travel to Texas to take on the Rangers in a three-game series starting Monday at 5:05 p.m. PT at Globe Life Park. Garrett Richards will make his third start of the season, six days after notching a win against the Indians, a game in which he threw for 5 2/3 innings and gave up only one hit -- a two-run homer. Richards last pitched against Texas on Sept. 17, 2017, when he completed five innings, giving up two earned runs and striking out seven in a loss. He is 3-3 with a 2.76 ERA in his past seven starts against Texas.
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