ANAHEIM -- Shohei Ohtani tied yet another Major League record on Friday, and this one showed just how much teams are trying to avoid pitching to him down the stretch.
After drawing a career-high four walks on Wednesday and three on Thursday against the first-place Astros, Ohtani drew four more against the Wild Card-contending Mariners in a 6-5 loss at Angel Stadium. It ties the MLB record of 11 free passes in three games, set by Bryce Harper in 2016. Seattle even intentionally walked Ohtani with one out and nobody on in the ninth, eventually leading to the Angels loading the bases. Jack Mayfield and Jose Rojas, however, couldn’t come through against closer Paul Sewald, stranding Ohtani at third.
"That's what's going to happen, their team is in the playoff hunt and they're not going to permit him to beat them," Angels manager Joe Maddon said. "When we get back to full complement, it'll be different. But until that happens, it's going to be the case unless that team's not in the playoff hunt. But give us credit. We were in a good position, but we just couldn’t get the run."
Ohtani joins Harper and Barry Bonds as the only players with at least 10 walks in a three-game span over the last 50 years. Surprisingly, Bonds never walked 11 times over three games. Ohtani is also the first player to draw at least three walks in three consecutive games since Bonds in 2003 -- the last AL player to do it was Ray Durham for the White Sox in 2000. The MLB record for consecutive games with at least three walks is four, set by Babe Ruth (1930) and Mickey Mantle (1957).
"I love that he's taking his walks," Maddon said before the series opener. "It's much better than swinging at bad pitches, striking out or making outs. He can contribute in other ways, just by scoring runs, running the bases and stealing bases. He needs to do that. What he's doing right now is even better because he's lacked protection for a large part of the season."
Of those 11 walks, four were intentional to Ohtani, who leads the AL with 17 intentional walks this season. Washington’s Juan Soto leads the Majors with 21 intentional passes this year. Ohtani has been hurt by the fact that fellow stars Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon, as well as Justin Upton, have been injured most of the season. As noted by Maddon, he hasn’t had much protection in the lineup, with Phil Gosselin serving as the club’s No. 3 hitter in the second half.
Gosselin, though, came through with a double after Ohtani was intentionally walked in the ninth, forcing the Mariners to intentionally walk Jared Walsh to load the bases.
"It's not something [that's] normal baseball etiquette to put the tying run on in the ninth inning, but in that situation, I thought it was worth a shot," Mariners manager Scott Servais said. "To their credit, and give Gosselin a ton of credit, he found a way to get a hit [and] put a ton of pressure on us. But at the end of the day, I trusted Paul to get through it."
Ohtani, who is considered the frontrunner for AL MVP, has 45 homers this season and trails Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Kansas City’s Salvador Perez by one homer for the Major League lead. Ohtani, though, has just three homers over 20 games in September as teams continue to pitch around him. No Angels player has ever led the Majors in homers outright, although Jackson did tie for the MLB lead with 39 homers in 1982.
The two-way star is expected to be in the lineup in every game the rest of the season and is also slated to make his 23rd start on the mound on Sunday. Ohtani is looking to reach both 10 wins and 150 strikeouts, as he's 9-2 with a 3.28 ERA and 146 strikeouts in 123 1/3 innings. It still hasn’t been decided if he’ll start the season finale for the Angels in Seattle on Oct. 3.
Ohtani has noted that it’s a goal of his to lead the Majors in homers, and he’s also four runs away from 100 and five RBIs away from 100, as well. Maddon said he hasn’t sensed much frustration from Ohtani regarding the lack of opportunities.
"He has a pretty good poker face," Maddon said. "He just comes up and gets ready for his next at-bat. He gets frustrated every once in a while, but for the most part, I feel like he's handled it pretty well. Of course, he wants to get that title. But unless he gets pitches, it's pretty much impossible to get that. His competitors are on teams that have protection for them."