One day, the most interesting player in baseball will be ripping a home run over the fence with an exit speed rivalling a jet plane at takeoff; the next day, he’ll be confounding hitters with his pitching delivery that will bring Cy Young into the discussion.
Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels is for real, and it’s been a good month for Japanese athletes.
Hideki Matsuyama is one of the most talked-about golfers after his victory at the Masters, and the 26-year-old Ohtani is definitely the talk of baseball with his duel-threat skills that haven’t been seen since Babe Ruth about 100 years ago.
The Ohtani talk before he arrived in North America in 2018 was near mythological in scope.
Here was this young Japanese phenom who was not only a slugging terror at the plate, but the best pitcher in his country.
Ha!, said North American fans. Wait’ll he gets here and faces some real major leaguers.
Well, he’s here, and the real major leaguers are in awe.
One night in the first week of the season, the Angels held a 3 – 0 lead in the fifth inning over the White Sox thanks to Ohtani’s one-hit pitching and first-inning home run.
A television graphic pointed out that his home run was the hardest-hit ball recorded by anyone all year, and that one of his pitches, a 101-mph fastball, was also the fastest of any MLB pitcher.
Later, however, Ohtani suffered a minor injury in a freak collision at the plate, was removed from the game, and did not get the win.
However, his bat hasn’t been affected and through the Angels first 11 games, he was among the American League leaders in batting average (.364), home runs (4) runs-batted in (12) and OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging average), with 1.076.
Angels’ manager Joe Maddon is a big fan of his Japanese star, saying “He’s a threat to hit it out on any pitch and on any swing.”
Best of all for the Angels, the team is off to a fast start and may finally get superstar Mike Trout and his team-mates back into the playoffs for the first time since 2014.
If that were to happen, no small amount of credit will go to Ohtani, who underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in 2018 and had his left knee operated on in late 2019.
“My lower body is there and I’m feeling strong,” Ohtani told MLB.com. “I think that’s the biggest difference from last year.”
Ohtani’s pitching arm and powerful swing are back to normal and the most interesting player in baseball may be on the verge of taking the Angels to baseball heaven.
• Vancouver comedy guy Steve Burgess: “I have a tax question. Charitable contributions are deductible but does (Canucks GM) Jim Benning get credit for giving away Adam Gaudette?”
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• Another one from Swansson, on TSN analyst Craig Button’s black eye: “(Button’s) face looks like he lost an argument to Ryan Reaves’ fists. Turns out he’s a pickleball casualty.”
• Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: “New England Patriots receiving great Julian Edelman announced his retirement earlier this week. Translation: He’ll be playing with Tom Brady and the Bucs next season.”
• Comedy writer Alex Kaseberg, on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine halting production: “Johnson & Johnson is owned by the same guy who owns the New York Jets. Is anyone surprised they would have to stop?”
• Greg Cote of the Miami Herald, on viewing numbers for Wrestlemania 37: “The pay-per-view gate would have been much greater if they’d taken my advice and arranged for somebody to body-slam Tom Brady.”
• RJ Currie of sportsdeke.com: “My wife asked me for a seven-letter N.Y. Times Crossword answer for ‘sound of heartbreak.’ All I could think of was ‘Go Leafs.’”
• Headline at Theonion.com: “Little League coach thinks right fielder has potential to be a great novelist.”
Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times: “A Dodger fan sitting in the bleachers caught Justin Turner’s home-run ball Wednesday night — and wound up with nacho cheese all over his hoodie. So, to sum it up: one run, one hit, one error and a whole bunch left on.”
• Masters runner-up Will Zalatoris, to the Pat McAfee Show, on why he gave up baseball for golf: “The only thing I could hit was low and away, which is where a golf ball is, so I was like, the hell with this.”
• Doug Robinson of Salt Lake City’s Deseret News, not looking forward to Zach Wilson’s possible NFL-draft destiny: “The Jets are to quarterbacks what Larry King was to marriage.”
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by Bruce Penton