Shohei Ohtani only few feet short of hitting for historic cycle

Shohei Ohtani only few feet short of hitting for historic cycle

ANAHEIM, Calif. — On what was in many ways a difficult afternoon, Shohei Ohtani still came strikingly close to accomplishing something unprecedented.

He missed by only a few feet.

Ohtani came to bat in Thursday’s eighth inning with a chance to become the first player in baseball history to hit for the cycle while also serving as that game’s starting pitcher. He then drove the first pitch he saw into deep center field, bringing a sparse Angel Stadium crowd to its feet — but Oakland Athletics center fielder Esteury Ruiz caught it right before crashing into the fence. It was a 389-foot out.

“It was off the end,” Ohtani said through an interpreter, “so I knew it wasn’t gone off the bat.”

But Ohtani was noticeably frustrated as he returned to the dugout in the late stages of the Los Angeles Angels’ eventual 8-7 victory. After reaching on a broken-bat infield single in the first inning, lining an opposite-field double in the third and turning a fly ball off the right-field fence into a triple in the sixth, Ohtani faced lefty reliever Richard Lovelady in the bottom of the eighth and sought a slider. He got it on the first pitch, on the inner half of home plate, but rotated his hips a little too aggressively and didn’t catch it directly on the heart of his bat’s barrel.

“It didn’t sound perfect off the bat,” Angels catcher Chad Wallach said. “I thought it might still go.”

Ohtani, with a .278/.343/.526 slash line as a hitter this season, entered Thursday having allowed only two runs through his first 28 innings on the mound in 2023. Opponents were batting only .092 against him. He then retired the first nine hitters in order, striking out five of them. The fourth inning, however, saw Ohtani expend 36 pitches and cough up a five-run lead, a rarity for the two-way star who has developed into one of the sport’s best pitchers.

An entire ballpark was stunned.

So were his teammates.

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“I had to go up and down the dugout after the next half-inning because the whole place was deflated,” Angels manager Phil Nevin said. “Everybody was like, ‘What happened?’ And I’m like, ‘He’s human, he’s gonna give up runs.'”

Ohtani allowed the first six batters of the fourth inning to reach — one on a walk, one on a double, two on hit by pitches and two on home runs. The seventh, Aledmys Diaz, hit a 367-foot lineout. Ohtani felt he was “a little passive, trying to protect our lead too much.” But he came back to retire eight of the next 10 batters, completing six innings to ultimately capture his fourth win.

“It just shows how good he is,” Wallach said.

“Vintage stuff,” Nevin said of how Ohtani preformed down the stretch. “You saw him get a little angry. I think you saw a couple of 100s, 101s out there. He wants to be perfect; I know that. He wants to be great, and he is. So when those innings happen, it frustrates him.”

Despite allowing five runs, Ohtani scattered only three hits. It marked the 10th consecutive time Ohtani had allowed three hits or less, tying Jacob deGrom for the longest streak by a starting pitcher since the mound moved to its current distance in 1893, according to research from the Elias Sports Bureau.

Had he managed a few more feet on his latest drive, he would have stood alone another way.

Ohtani, who hit for the cycle in June 2019, would have become the first player since Jimmy Ryan of the Chicago White Stockings in 1888 to hit for the cycle during a game in which he also pitched. Ryan, though, started that game in center field and merely came in for relief. No player had accomplished the feat while also serving as a starting pitcher, an unsurprising circumstance given that Ohtani qualifies as the first two-way player since Babe Ruth.

Instead, Ohtani became the first player to strike out eight batters and hit a single, a double and a triple in the same game since Dave Danforth of the St. Louis Browns on Aug. 25, 1923. During his last four starts, Ohtani has contributed more hits himself (seven) than he has allowed to others (six), an unprecedented feat. By the time the bottom of the third came to an end, Ohtani had already accumulated a single and a double as a hitter, while rolling through the worst team in baseball on the mound.

Nevin began to consider the possibility of a hitting cycle and a perfect game simultaneously.

Said Nevin: “You’re thinking those things whenever he’s out there.”

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By dreamer_live

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