LOS ANGELES — Shohei Ohtani called his shot.
Before Ohtani stepped to the plate to lead off the All-Star Game, the Angels’ two-way star announced to the world – and to Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw – in an on-deck circle interview with Fox’s Tom Verducci what he planned to do.
“First pitch, first swing,” Ohtani said in English. “That’s it.”
Ohtani said later that it was no joke. He said through his interpreter that he was “100 percent” swinging at anything that Kershaw threw him.
Ohtani got a 91 mph fastball off the outside corner and he broke his bat as he flared it into center field, for his first All-Star Game hit.
“Obviously I wish I had hit it square or a swing and a miss,” Ohtani said. “Somewhere in the middle, I wasn’t too happy about that.”
Kershaw, making his first All-Star start, said he planned all along to throw a first-pitch fastball.
“He didn’t hit it over the fence, so it was a win and we can move on,” Kershaw said.
Even better for Kershaw, he was able to quickly erase Ohtani, who was leaning the wrong way when Kershaw threw to first, picking him off. Both Kershaw and Ohtani had a laugh as Ohtani headed back to the dugout.
“I was not expecting that,” Ohtani said. “I guess my name is going to be in the papers, whether it’s good or bad.”
Kershaw said he wasn’t even trying to pick off Ohtani.
“I just kind of lobbed it over there,” he said. “I didn’t know what pitch to throw yet, so just kind of giving myself a second and I got him.”
Ohtani walked in his next trip to the plate, and this time he stayed at first for the rest of the inning.
That was the end of Ohtani’s second trip to the All-Star Game, which was both more and less eventful than his first.
Last year in Denver, Ohtani went hitless in two trips to the plate, but he also pitched a scoreless inning. Although he was selected as a pitcher and the designated hitter again this year – a feat no one but him had ever accomplished – he declined to pitch in the game this year.
Ohtani preferred to pitch for the Angels on Friday instead of Saturday because that worked out better for his second-half schedule. That precluded him from pitching in the All-Star Game.
Ohtani conceded that he was not as fatigued this year because he didn’t pitch, but he said that he still prefers to do both.
“I think it’s the way for me to express myself, playing both ways,” Ohtani said. “Whether is the All-Star Game or regular season I take it the same.”
Obviously, Ohtani is defined by his success as a two-way player, which is why players from around the majors still marvel at his performance.
While Ohtani was batting in the third inning, New York Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole and Atlanta Braves pitcher Max Fried were both mic’d up in their respective dugouts and they gushed over Ohtani.
“It’s so impressive,” Cole said.
A couple of hours earlier, Hall of Famer Dave Winfield stood around the cage during the American League’s batting practice.
Winfield was a two-way star at the University of Minnesota in 1973, leading his team into the College World Series. Scouts believed he had the tools to be a first-round pick in either role, but the San Diego Padres took with him with the fourth overall pick and brought him straight to the big leagues as an outfielder. Winfield, who was also drafted by NFL, NBA and ABA teams, never pitched in the majors.
Winfield said Tuesday that he wanted to pitch “even just one mop-up inning, but they said ‘No, you’re too valuable.’”
That’s why he is so in awe of what Ohtani has done.
“I love it,” Winfield said. “He plays the game like we did when we were youngsters… I admire what Ohtani is doing. I appreciate it and respect it and hope he continues to do well.”
Longtime big league pitcher CC Sabathia, who also watched batting practice from behind the cage, has long been an Ohtani believer. He said he’s been especially impressed at how much better Ohtani has pitched this season. He has a 2.38 ERA this season, down from 3.18 last year.
“It’s gonna be hard not to give him the MVP every year,” Sabathia said. “It’s down to (Aaron) Judge and Ohtani, but for me, I’ll give it to Ohtani.”
— MLB (@MLB) July 20, 2022