To recap, this is what Shohei Ohtani accomplished over the past eight days:
Won his major league pitching debut, allowing three runs over six innings.
Hit a two-run homer the next night off reigning Cy Young winner Corey Kluber in the fifth inning to tie a game that the Angels eventually won 3-2 in extra innings.
Following an off day, homered for the third straight game, a mammoth 449-foot blast near the waterfall in left-center at Angel Stadium, to jump-start the Angels as they rallied from a 6-0 deficit to the Oakland Athletics.
In his first start at home, took a perfect game into the seventh inning on Sunday against the A’s and finished with 12 strikeouts, one hit and one walk over seven frames, while registering 25 swing-and-misses -- the most in the majors in 2018.
Maybe aside from some postseason pitching performances, it might have been the most exhilarating individual week and one day in major league history.
You can call that an exaggeration, and maybe you’re more impressed by Johnny Vander Meer’s back-to-back no-hitters over five days in 1938 or Ken Griffey Jr. matching Don Mattingly and Dale Long with home runs in eight consecutive games in 1993. But Ohtani pitched, he slugged, he dominated and the Angels went 5-0 in the games he played -- all in his first full week in the majors.
It was something else.
As my colleague Christina Kahrl tweeted, this is Fernandomania plus Nomomania wrapped around the enthusiasm for the streaks of Griffey and Mattingly. It’s all coming from a two-way wunderkind from Japan adapting to a new culture and with an enormous spotlight of hype.
The A’s had no chance Sunday. In terms of raw stuff for a starting pitcher, Ohtani was right up there with Noah Syndergaard and Max Scherzer. He had fastball command, starting 15 of 23 batters with first-pitch strikes, hitting the corners or keeping it down in the zone. His slider doesn’t have the wicked side-to-side movement like Scherzer’s but rather works more like a change-of-pace curveball, spinning in at 80 mph to 82 mph. It was the splitter, however, that made the difference Sunday.
Ohtani threw the splitter 34 times. The A’s swung 21 times. They missed 16 times. In his two starts, batters have missed on 26 of 37 swings against the splitter and are 0-for-19 against it. When you have to gear up for an upper-90s fastball and then Ohtani throws an 88 mph splitter that dives down ... well, good luck.
The splitter is a popular pitch in Japan. Masahiro Tanaka has a good one, although he’ll hang it from time to time and he doesn’t throw as hard as Ohtani. Hisashi Iwakuma had a good one, but since his fastball topped out at 90 mph to 91 mph, hitters had a little better chance to adjust between the pitches. As Kahrl pointed out, Ohtani’s dominance was reminiscent of Mike Scott in 1986, when Scott combined a good fastball with a splitter (back when few pitchers threw one) to strike out 306 batters and win the Cy Young Award.
Ohtani’s best splitter might have been his final pitch of the outing. Marcus Semien had broken up the perfect game when he lined a base hit into left field off a 2-0 fastball. After a walk and groundout, Matt Olson came up with two outs and runners at second and third. Ohtani was tiring and this was pretty clearly his final batter, as the bullpen was getting loose. Olson laid off two splitters to get ahead in the count 3-1. Ohtani then painted the outside corner with a 98 mph fastball. I think everyone knew the splitter was coming, even Olson. He couldn’t lay off it this time. Swing, miss, seven shutout innings.
Ohtani pumped his fist and slapped his glove in excitement. Yeah, he plays the game with some emotion as well.
Welcome to the big leagues, kid. I can’t wait to see what happens during your second week.
Let’s start with the Yankees, who blew a 5-0 first-inning lead to the Baltimore Orioles and lost in 12 innings as Jordan Montgomery could only get through four frames. After the Orioles scored in the top of the 12th, the Yankees loaded the bases against Brad Brach with no outs -- and Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton coming up. The Yankees’ win expectancy at that point was 75 percent. Instead, Judge grounded into the rare 1-2-5 double play, and Stanton struck out -- for the fifth time in the game, as he went 0-for-7.
That’s already two five-strikeout games for Stanton, and if that seems rare, it is: In the modern era, only two other players have had two five-strikeout games in one season: Deron Johnson in 1964 and Ray Lankford -- who had three -- in 1998.
Lankford’s games all were extra-inning affairs, and he had at least one hit in all three. Stanton is the first guy to have two five-strikeouts games with no hits in a season. All this after not having even a four-strikeout game last season. Through 10 games, Stanton is on pace for 49 home runs, 97 walks ... and 324 strikeouts.
Needless to say, Yankees fans booed Stanton once again as he ended the game.
“They’re not going to cheer for that,” he said. “So what do you expect?”
Meanwhile, the Red Sox rallied with six runs in the eighth inning -- after there were two outs and nobody on -- to stun the Tampa Bay Rays. It was only the fourth date in MLB history that either the Yankees or Red Sox blew a five-run lead while the other rallied from a five-run deficit (not including games against each other). Mookie Betts tied it with a two-out single, then Andrew Benintendi doubled in Betts. Speaking of win probability, the Rays’ odds were at 97.9 percent before the rally started.
— Hanley Ramirez ⚾️ (@HanleyRamirez) April 8, 2018
The Red Sox have started 8-1 for the first time in franchise history. The Rays’ disastrous spring training has spilled over into the regular season with a 1-8 start. The Red Sox have opened up a 3.5-game lead on the Yankees, which means almost nothing this early in the season, but it does mean a little something. If the Yankees had a 52 percent chance (to Boston's 48) to win the division on Opening Day, maybe those odds now swing in favor of the Red Sox. FanGraphs has the Red Sox with a 49.7 percent chance to win the division, the Yankees at 43.5 and the Blue Jays at 6.7 (and don’t forget the Orioles at 0.1).
Torey Lovullo has no love for Yadier Molina: Not best friends ...
Yadier Molina had to be held back after Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo gestured towards him while arguing a call. pic.twitter.com/tGC68gHQBq
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 8, 2018
After Sunday's game, Lovullo expressed he has the utmost respect for Molina and said he “used a poor choice of words” to which Molina took offense. My guess is it was something like, “That [expletive] is framing pitches.”
Anyway, the Arizona Diamondbacks got the last laugh with a 4-1 victory, scoring three runs in the eighth off the St. Louis Cardinals' bullpen, as David Peralta hit a two-run homer off Dominic Leone and AJ Pollock homered off Mike Mayers.
A potential breakout performer: Pittsburgh Pirates righty Jameson Taillon spun a one-hit shutout against the Cincinnati Reds -- opposing pitcher Tyler Mahle got the only hit -- as the Pirates improved to 7-2. Taillon, the second overall pick in 2010 (one spot ahead of Manny Machado), has seen his career interrupted by Tommy John surgery in the minors and then testicular cancer last season, so he’s yet to throw a complete season in the majors. He had a strong first half last season, before posting a 5.96 ERA in the second half. That could have been fatigue, but it seems there was some bad luck with balls in play, as well, as his strikeout-to-walk ratio and home run rate remained consistent.
Special day. Thanks to the fans that braved that cold weather and stayed to the end. Amazing work on defense by everyone, and always love working with my brother @fran_cervelli! Let's win some games on this road trip!
— Jameson Taillon (@JTaillon19) April 8, 2018
The Pirates are 7-2, exactly the kind of start a young team like this needed. Sure, they’re a dark horse playoff contender, but they have all the ingredients you look for in a surprise team:
Some young starters who could take off, such as Taillon, Chad Kuhl and Steven Brault and Trevor Williams. Two position players coming off bad seasons, in Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco, who should be much better. Josh Bell, who should have better numbers in his second season. Felipe Rivero should lock down the ninth. If Colin Moran and Corey Dickerson provide some left-handed power, the lineup could be sneaky good.