ANAHEIM — After dealing with injuries that prevented him from performing at his peak as a two-way player for nearly three years, Shohei Ohtani had been waiting to reacquaint the baseball world with the scope of his talents.
He took care of that in the first 15 minutes of the Angels’ 7-4 victory over the Chicago White Sox on Sunday night, which ended on Jared Walsh’s walk-off homer, his second of the night.
Ohtani threw the one of his nine pitches at 100 mph in the top of the first, and in the bottom of the inning he blasted a 451-foot homer, the ball leaving his bat at 115 mph.
“What he did tonight was pretty special and you’re going to see a lot more of that,” Manager Joe Maddon said. “It was fun to watch. I think everybody was entertained. That’s what he signed up to do and you’re going to see more of it.”
It was the jaw-dropping opening to a nationally televised game that certainly helped answer questions about whether Ohtani could really pull off what no player — other than him — had done in 100 years.
Babe Ruth was the last player to be successful as a hitter and a pitcher before Ohtani did it for the first half of 2018, but injuries had kept him from doing it since. Even in 2018, though, he never hit and pitched in the same game, as he did on Sunday.
“I’m glad I got this game under my belt,” Ohtani said through his interpreter. “It will lead to more confidence… It’s just one game. I’m going to take it one game at a time. I’m not out to prove the doubters wrong or anything.”
What’s more, the Angels won the game, taking three of four in the season-opening series from one of the best teams in the league.
The Angels, who took a one-run lead on a Walsh homer in the fifth, were two outs from winning it in the top of the ninth. Closer Raisel Iglesias stabbed a comebacker and made an errant throw to third, allowing the tying run to score.
They won it anyway. Dexter Fowler led off the bottom of the ninth with a single and went to second on an Anthony Rendon walk.
Walsh then launched a ball over the fence in left-center.
It was the dramatic finish to a night that that ended for Ohtani in a wild — and frightening — sequence back in the fifth.
With a 3-1 lead, two on and two out, Ohtani threw a two-strike pitch that Yoan Moncada swung through, but catcher Max Stassi had the ball tick off his glove and roll about 25 feet from the plate. Stassi’s rushed throw to first skipped past Walsh as José Abreu came steaming around to try to score the second White Sox run on the play.
Ohtani was covering the plate and leapt just as Abreu — who is 6-3, 235 pounds — slid into him. Ohtani got up slowly, but was able to walk off the field on his own power, ending his night.
“I feel fine as of now,” Ohtani said. “When the collision happened the impact was kind of big. I couldn’t get up right away, but after time I felt much better… It wasn’t as bad as it looked.”
Ohtani might not have even been in the game for that collision if Maddon had not shown confidence in him by leaving him out to try to escape the jam even after he’d given up a run on on a hit and two walks.
“That’s how a guy becomes a guy,” Maddon said. “You gotta give him that opportunity, especially this time of year. If he does that now and is able to fight through it, he will know what he’s capable of. If you are constantly taking guys out of troubling situations they are never going to find out.”
Ohtani said he was “really grateful for Joe letting me face that extra hitter.”
Those two unearned runs did little to detract from what Ohtani had done on the mound, though.
He threw 92 pitches, consistently hitting 97-99 mph with his fastball and peaking at 101. He hadn’t allowed a run through four innings, and he ended the fourth with a three-pitch strikeout of Luis Robert to strand two runners.
Ohtani then pumped his fist and screamed at the most exciting of his seven strikeouts.
Ohtani had a nice night at the plate too, which was encouraging after he’d gone 2 for 13 with six strikeouts in the first three games.
His first-inning homer was a monster shot on a first-pitch 97-mph fastball from Dylan Cease. In the second inning, Ohtani smoked a 109 mph laser into center field, but it was caught. He grounded out in his final at-bat.
Ohtani said he felt “almost perfect” at the plate, and Maddon said that probably carried over to the way he pitched.
“It’s all interconnected,” Maddon said. “Everything we do is interconnected. He is a very introspective bright young man who loves to play baseball. Let’s stay out of his way. Let him play baseball and see what happens.”