Shohei Ohtani flirts with perfect game in mesmerizing first home start

Tim Brown
MLB columnist

ANAHEIM, Calif. – Los Angeles Angels right-hander Shohei Ohtani, the two-way player from Japan making his second major league start, struck out 12 Oakland A’s across seven shutout innings on Sunday in a 6-1 win. Pitching for the first time at Angel Stadium, Ohtani did not allow a hit until there was one out in the seventh inning.

In 2 1/2 breathtaking hours of power and finesse, the 23-year-old Ohtani mixed fastballs that reached 100 mph with a curveball that fluttered at 68 mph. In between, Ohtani frustrated A’s hitters with an array of split-fingered fastballs and sliders.

He retired the first 19 hitters in order, 11 by strikeout. Only three balls reached the outfield. By the fifth inning, Angels fans rose and cheered two-strike counts, urging Ohtani forward, celebrating his dominance.

Attempting to become the first regular two-way player of significance in nearly a century, an effort that has brought him recognition as “the Japanese Babe Ruth”, Ohtani is batting .389 with three home runs in four games as the Angels designated-hitter. As a pitcher, he is 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA, with 18 strikeouts in 14 innings.

Shohei Ohtani flirted with a perfect game in his first home start for the Los Angeles Angels. (AP)

On Sunday, facing the A’s for the second time in eight days, Ohtani struck out the A’s first three hitters. By the end of the third, once through the lineup, he’d struck out six batters, five of them on split-fingered fastballs. In the middle innings, as thoughts of a perfect game floated through a crowd of 44,742, Ohtani’s fastball gained velocity. He struck out A’s cleanup hitter Kris Davis on a 99-mph fastball in the fifth, next struck out Matt Olson on a 99-mph fastball, then finished Matt Chapman on a splitter.

In the seventh inning, which he began with 75 pitches, Ohtani retired A’s leadoff hitter Matt Joyce on a soft liner to shortstop. Then, on a two-ball fastball, Marcus Semien grounded a single through the left side of the infield. Angels fans groaned, then honored the rookie pitcher with a standing ovation. Ohtani finished the seventh inning with a strikeout of Olson, his 12th. Sensing the end of his day, Ohtani followed that splitter with a fist pump.

Four months ago, Ohtani, a free agent, chose to sign with the Angels over six other teams – the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs. He struggled with his pitching and hitting in spring training, bringing speculation from scouts and other experts he might be better served to begin his U.S. career in the minor leagues. The Angels disagreed, however, and in the first 11 days of the season Ohtani has been among the league’s better hitters, along with one of its better pitchers.

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