BOSTON — Shohei Ohtani had already hit a ball 109 miles an hour and thrown 81 of his 99 pitches for strikes, so when he strode to the plate in the eighth inning of perhaps the greatest game ever played here, he lined a fastball off the Green Monster so hard he knocked his own number off the wall.
“He’s the best player in the league,” Red Sox starter Rich Hill told reporters after Thursday’s game was over and the Angels had won 8–0 to take the series. “I think that’s one thing everybody can pretty much unanimously agree upon. It’s pretty special to see somebody like that come along. I think everybody should be really appreciating what we’re seeing, because it’s something we haven’t seen in 100 years and we may never see it again for another 100 years.”
Indeed, the 29,476 at Fenway on Thursday did not get to watch the home team win. But they did see history. When he dug into the batter’s box in the first inning, Ohtani became the first starting pitcher since Babe Ruth in 1919 to hit in the top four spots in the lineup here. (Ruth hit fourth, Ohtani third.)
Then Ohtani got to work, and he left Ruth behind. A year after he won the American League MVP award by unanimous vote, Ohtani, 27, has a chance to be even better. His offensive numbers are down, as are just about everyone else’s, but his command on the mound is the best of his career. He leads the league in strikeouts per nine innings, with 14.1, and he has walked only five men this year.
Both those numbers improved on Thursday, when he fanned 11 and walked none over seven scoreless innings. Only 11 times has a pitcher struck out more batters here while allowing no runs or walks. And none of them went 2-for-4 at the plate.
In fact, Ohtani became only the second starting pitcher to record a hit at Fenway since the implementation of the designated hitter in 1973. (Roger Clemens also did it in ’96 when the Red Sox put DH José Canseco in left field; give the Rocket one point there, because he finished the season with a 1.000 average.)
Asked if this was his best outing in the major leagues, Ohtani demurred. “It was better than last time,” he said. (Eight days ago, against the Guardians, he allowed two runs in five innings and went 3-for-5 at the plate.)
“It’s otherworldly,” said manager Joe Maddon. “I just hope that people understand how unusual it is, what you’re seeing, and please never take it for granted.”
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The Red Sox must be grateful such talent is so unusual. Ohtani baffled them, none worse than Trevor Story, who whiffed on a splitter to start the outing and then struck out on a foul-tipped four-seamer to end it, and in between whiffed on a four-seamer and a slider. Ohtani generated a career-high 29 swings and misses and struck out batters on each of his four pitches. He went to three two-ball counts and one three-ball count. All three ended in outs. Catcher Max Stassi said the last one—Story’s fourth strikeout—was the most impressive thing he saw all day.
“Once we got to [a 3–0 count], I was like, ‘Man, we haven’t been here all day!’” Stassi said, joking that he barely moved his glove for seven innings. “Then, all of a sudden, 3–0, right down the middle; 3–1, a little bit up, swing and a miss; 3–2, coming right back to the heater. That was amazing.”
Rotationmate Patrick Sandoval was more succinct: “It’s nasty,” he said admiringly.
First baseman Jared Walsh just gaped. “He’s got 100 in his back pocket, it seems like, anytime he needs it,” he said. “It blows me away. I’m playing behind him, and I’m like, I want no part of that splitter, that curveball, that 100-mile-an-hour fastball. It’s unbelievable.” When Ohtani threw that 100-mph fastball with his 68th pitch, Walsh turned to first base umpire Nestor Ceja.
“No, there’s just 100 in the [fifth] inning whenever I need it,” he said.
“Unbelievable, man,” Ceja replied.
“I think everybody’s kind of walking around like, ‘How could one person possess this much talent?’” Walsh said. “And he goes and hits a -foot single.”
That was the eighth-inning rocket that traveled at 104 mph, tacked on the Angels’ fourth run and dislodged Ohtani’s No. 17 from the wall. That was fine. He didn’t need it anymore. His work was done.
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