Shohei Ohtani and Aaron Judge got lost in the pitching duel between Angels starter Patrick Sandoval and New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole. Through their first two at-bats, Ohtani and Judge were hitless. Judge struck out twice, and Ohtani hit a flyout and a popout.
Then in the sixth inning, Ohtani declared himself the most valuable player.
With two on and one out and the Angels trailing by two runs, the baseball titan sized up Cole’s 2-and-0 four-seam fastball and hit it 107 miles per hour into the hedges behind the center-field wall. Ohtani trotted around the bases, and David Fletcher, who reached on a single, and Mike Trout, who reached base on a fielding error, waited to greet him after he touched home plate.
“Just missed it on my first at-bat, so I wanted that next opportunity,” Ohtani said in Japanese through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara after the game. “Luckily Trout got on with the error and gave me that opportunity and I was happy to be able to come through.”
His homer was a no-doubter when it left his bat and fueled the Angels’ 3-2 comeback win. Cole didn’t need to turn around to know where Ohtani was sending his pitch. Cole lightly slapped his glove in response to his mistake. And Yankee center fielder Aaron Hicks could only stand and watch as the ball disappeared behind the wall.
Ohtani is the only player in MLB history to have a 100-strikeout (on the mound) and 30-home run season, which he did in 2021 and was unanimously awarded the American League most valuable player. After hitting his 30th home run during Wednesday’s win, he now has done it twice — Ohtani has 176 strikeouts this season. Ohtani also is the first MLB player to have a season with 10 wins and 30 home runs.
“Simply, I’m honored, happy, humbled to hear that,” Ohtani said of his achievement. “I just want to stay healthy, not get hurt, finish strong.”
Asked of his thoughts on the MVP race with Judge this year, Ohtani said: “Definitely leads to motivation for me to do better, I mean trying to go for that hardware is something I think about. For the most part, I just take it game by game, at-bat by at-bat and at the end of the day, we’ll count it all up.”
Ohtani had been itching at a big extra-base hit all night.
He was robbed of a potential two-run home run off of Cole in the first inning. His flyout was secured in one fluid motion by Hicks, who hopped up to make the catch before it cleared the center-field wall.
Ohtani didn’t muster enough against Cole in his second at-bat either, hitting a popout to Josh Donaldson at third in the fourth inning.
Cole kept the Angels scoreless until his mistake to Ohtani in the sixth. The Angels did get six hits off of Cole, in addition to the three runs (only two earned).
Sandoval, meanwhile, had been picking apart the American League East-leading Yankees until a tricky fifth inning.
He struck out Judge on four pitches in the first inning, the final whiff coming on Sandoval’s signature 1-and-2 changeup. He got Judge again in the fourth inning with his equally sharp 1-and-2 slider, which Judge foul-tipped into the catcher’s glove for strike three.
In Judge’s final meeting with the Angels left-handed pitcher, he drew a seven-pitch walk, but was forced out at second on a grounder by fellow slugger Giancarlo Stanton.
Sandoval pitched a 1-2-3 first inning, including back-to-back strikeouts of Andrew Benintendi and then Judge, then followed that with a clean second inning. By the time Sandoval cleared through the top of the Yankees order for a second time — with the last two outs coming on strikeouts of Judge and Stanton — Sandoval was fired up.
He walked off the mound after that last out of the fourth inning, yelling and pumping his fist in celebration.
It was Hicks who got the first hit off of Sandoval in the third inning, a groundball that skittered between third baseman Matt Duffy and shortstop David Fletcher. Hicks didn’t make it much farther than first base. Sandoval got Isiah Kiner-Falefa to hit a grounder to Fletcher, who quickly threw the ball to Luis Rengifo at second for the force out.
Donaldson hit a double off of Sandoval in the fifth inning, and later scored the eventual first run of the game.
Donaldson’s double, a grounder that bounced erratically along the third-base line, hit the dirt mere feet in front of Duffy, who wasn’t able to catch the ball before it bounced by him and went to the corner where on-field security and the ball boy sat in left.
That was followed by Sandoval’s wild pitch to Gleyber Torres, which allowed Donaldson to advance to third. Torres doubled off Sandoval, scoring Donaldson. Hicks’ sacrifice fly allowed Torres to score and the Yankees to take a 2-0 lead over the Angels in the fifth inning.
Ohtani’s home run gave Sandoval a chance to leave the mound with the Angels in the lead.
“The home run helped a lot. Brought a lot of energy for me and the dugout as well,” Sandoval said. “Guy brings a lot of value to this team.
“I mean, it’s ridiculous. His ERA and he’s hit 30 bombs. Guy’s a unicorn. It’s insane.”
Sandoval finished his night after seven innings, giving up three hits, two earned runs, walking two and striking out seven.
Judge and Stanton worked walks off of Angels reliever Jimmy Herget in the ninth inning but were stranded, securing the Angels’ win.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.