ANAHEIM — Somehow, Shohei Ohtani continues to rise to new heights.
Waving the new sinker he’s just starting to embody, the two-way star looked as dominant as ever on Saturday night at Angel Stadium, pitching eight innings of one-run ball in the Angels’ 2-1 win over the Astros in 12 innings. In the process, Ohtani reached 400 career major league strikeouts while also setting a career high in MLB innings pitched with 136 (surpassing his total of 130 1/3 in 2021).
Ohtani’s 403 strikeouts across parts of four major league seasons are in addition to the 624 he recorded during his five seasons in NPB.
“He was unbelievable,” interim manager Phil Nevin said. “To me, it was probably his best outing of the year, just considering where we were, how the game went. Even the running was soft contact. He was really good. Really, really good.”
That sinker was a big part of Ohtani’s success against the team with the best record in the American League. After throwing it 13 times in his previous two starts combined, he threw it 18 times on Saturday. It worked for him in a way that it did not before, where Ohtani himself describes the pitch as “bad.”
“I mean, you can see it,” Nevin said. “It has 17-18 inches of run across the plate, and it’s still at 98-99 miles an hour. That’s a pretty tough deal for any hitter, [and] certainly as a right-handed hitter.”
“I felt really good about it, for the most part,” Ohtani said. “Gived up a couple of hits, but I was able to locate it where I wanted and I was able to throw a lot of them, so that was really good.”
The only blemish on Ohtani’s line came in the top of the fifth, when Trey Mancini hit a two-out double and scored on a base hit by JJ Matijevic. But after working out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth and throwing a clean top of the seventh, Ohtani had enough in the tank to go back out for the eighth inning. For the second time this season and fourth time in his career, he went eight, working around Jose Altuve’s one-out double to keep the game tied at 1.
The 111 pitches were a season high for the right-hander, who lowered his ERA to 2.58, which ranks fifth among qualified American League starters.
“You can see it on his face sometimes when it’s another level above the level he’s already reaching,” Nevin said. “I mean, you saw him get up over 100 miles an hour there in the seventh and eighth, so he can definitely catch up and have that gear.”
This comes on the heels of Ohtani becoming the first player in AL/NL history to hit 30 or more home runs in a season while also winning 10 or more games, which he performed on Wednesday. His five strikeouts on Saturday brought his total on the season to 181; with 19 more, he will also be the first player in AL/NL history with 200 strikeouts as a pitcher and 30 home runs as a hitter.
He threw more than 136 innings in a season in Japan, but with a few more starts he could set an all-around personal best.
The Angels only strung together one run through the first nine innings, with Luis Rengifo scoring on Ryan Aguilar’s sacrifice fly in the seventh for Aguilar’s first career RBI. But José Quijada, Jimmy Herget and Ryan Tepera combined for four scoreless innings, setting the stage for Matt Duffy’s walk-off single in the bottom of the 12th on a ball that bounced before hitting the glove of diving center fielder Mauricio Dubón.
It was Duffy’s first career walk with the Angels, which was made extra sweet by the fact that it saved Ohtani’s stellar start. Duffy even took the opportunity to weigh in on the heated Ohtani-vs.-Aaron Judge AL MVP debate.
“People were talking about Judge for MVP, and I’m like, he’s got to break [Roger] Maris’ record to even be in the conversation for me,” Duffy said. “Some people might think that’s ridiculous in New York, I’m sure. But [Ohtani] does it on both sides of the ball.
“… I mean, it’s crazy. There really are no words for it. And there’s a reason why no one has done that since Babe Ruth, I guess. But how exceptional he is on both sides of the ball, only, you are at a loss for words, because there are none.”