This week of baseball is one of the most exciting I’ve ever watched. Pure joy. A love for the game that was fully felt. And there was one moment that started it all. A smile that went from one of my big Dumbo ears to the other. It was when Shohei Ohtani hit his first career home run.
Upon returning to the dugout, the Angels in the dugout gave him the silent treatment. Shohei walked in, smiling, and waived his hands in the air. Not one Angel gave in. Then Shohei grabbed a teammate, shook him like a kid waking their parents up Christmas morning, and was soon surrounded by his teammates in a thrilling celebration. Shohei was in the middle, surrounded by as many people that could get around him, and sank in a sea of hugs, his head was facing upward, and a smile was on his face that was bigger than the home run he hit.
Just in case you wondered why Shohei Ohtani passed on millions to come to MLB early and make the league minimum … here’s why.
— Greatest Show on Dirt Baseball Podcast (@greatestondirt) April 6, 2018
Watching this scene explains perfectly why the 23-year-old skipped out of millions to play in the Majors right now. He couldn’t wait to play ball!
I had a great week. Went to the gym once, recorded two episodes of the podcast, and ate many fewer donuts. Shohei Ohtani had an infinitely better week than me and every other living creature on the entire planet.
From Sunday to Sunday, here is what Shohei Ohtani did:
He won 2 games as a pitcher and hit 3 home runs. The last guy to do this in the first 10 games of the season did it in 1919. You could still buy a brand new Ford Model T when this last happened. The outhouse was still a thing, man!
The numbers, my friends, are a thing of beauty. They’re some sort of sandlot legend. Along with the three home runs he bashed, one of which was launched at 112.4 mph and sailed 449 feet, he batted .462, slugged 1.154, and had an OPS of 1.654. He joins a list of 18 hitters that have hit a couple balls at least 112 mph. Hitters with at least ten batted balls; Shohei is second only to Miguel Sano.
He can hit a baseball very hard, and he does it consistently.
He can also throw a baseball very hard, and he does that consistently.
His velocity range is borderline unfair to the man with the bat in his hand with hopes of putting the baseball into play. When Shohei is cruising, he takes the wheel behind a 68-mph curveball. When he engages the flux capacitor, his fastball goes 100 mph. When he plays David Copperfield, his splitter vanishes in thin air at 90 mph.
When Shohei Ohtani swings, the baseball disappears about 450 feet away into the water.
When he pitches, the baseball disappears along with the hopes and dreams of the batter.
— Greatest Show on Dirt Baseball Podcast (@greatestondirt) April 8, 2018
Hey Rob Manfred, if pace of play worsens because of the lack of balls in play, take Shohei Ohtani out of the equation. He’ll skew the crap out of it. Just look at his 25 swing and misses on Sunday, and 18 the previous Sunday. 18 was higher than any Angel last season, and 25 has only been done like 28 times in two seasons. This is Shohei’s second go at the thing.
His numbers as a starting pitcher:
Pitched 2 baseball games. Won both. Assembled a 2.08 ERA over 13 innings thrown. That’s only 3 earned runs in two starts because we are math whizzes. His WHIP: 0.46. That means he allows half a runner each inning to reach base. He’s Johnny Cage in Mortal Kombat II.
When a hitter steps into the batter’s box to face Shohei, there is less than a 1 in 10 shot he gets a hit (.093 average, 4 hits allowed in 13 innings). He has sent 18 batters packing on whiffs and only 2 to first base on a free pass. His fastball actually gets faster as the game goes. Aged Whisky. He was running 96 mph at the start of the game. I wondered if he was working too in between starts, a question pondered by many a writer, hard because his velocity was down. Turns out he ages his fastball like Jack Daniels ages their whiskey. He was hitting 99-100 sometime around the 5th-7th inning. All was well.
His start against the Oakland Athletics was mesmerizing. I was in a world full of baseball bliss, as he calmly and confidently eased each pitch towards the batter. He was like Da Vinci, whisking the brush strokes along The Last Supper, while each batter posed for his Mona Lisa, which consisted of retiring the first 19 batters, accumulating at least seven 0-2 counts (we lost count), and sending 12 batters back to the dugout upon the strikeout. He sent one on a free pass to first, a mild hiccup once the perfect game ended, and was faced with his first jam of the day. Two on and one out. Things oft go awry for a hurler once a no-hit bid is extinguished, but Shohei composed himself, induced a soft tapper, which he calmly relayed to first, and then with the beautifully destructive slider, ended the threat with a strikeout of Matt Olson. The entire thing filed me with a similar excitement, one witnessed some 20 years earlier: Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout game. Just something about a rookie doing the unthinkable. Shohei was supposed to be a bust, right? His spring ERA was 27.00 and his batting average was .125. Trust me, Twitter thought as much. On my podcast, I even said he might want to go to Triple-A. That was poop.
Don’t be too mad at me. After all, what Shohei Ohtani is doing is something of another dimension. Straight out of Stranger Things. If you haven’t watched him play an entire game, I’d damn near send you my MLB TV login. I won’t, just in case you are a robber. But I will end at this: I am so happy Shohei Ohtani came to MLB. He plays with such joy, excitement, and happiness. A calm contentment. He’d rather be nowhere else, and it shows. I love seeing that in athletes.