Ohtani's 35th HR, plus bat flip, spark Angels win

Ohtani's 35th HR, plus bat flip, spark Angels win

ANAHEIM, Calif. — The baseball sailed deep into the night sky, and Shohei Ohtani’s bat went right along with it — the latter flipping five times before landing somewhere between the batter’s box and the first-base dugout; the former traveling 403 feet to straightaway center field at Angel Stadium.

It was another signature moment in another season full of them for the Los Angeles Angels star.

Ohtani’s unprecedented pitching and hitting exploits over these past 2½ years have been well-documented and thoroughly celebrated. What still isn’t fully grasped, perhaps, is how stridently he chases greatness and how determinedly he yearns to win. But moments like that on Monday — an epic bat flip in the midst of a seventh-inning, game-tying homer, his major-league-leading 35th — provide a window into that desire.

“Everything he does is calculated to be the best player in the world, for the purpose of winning,” Angels manager Phil Nevin said after his team’s 4-3 victory over the New York Yankees. “Everything else that comes along with that is great, but he wants to win, in the worst way. This has been frustrating for him in these last two weeks, as it’s been for everybody.

“But you can see it on him. He wants to win. He wants to win here.”

Ohtani’s home run marked the third consecutive game in which he has gone deep in the seventh inning or later; it set the stage for Michael Stefanic, who grew up rooting for the Boston Red Sox, to deliver a walk-off hit in the 10th against Yankees lefty Nick Ramirez.

Ohtani, on pace for 60 home runs in his third full season as a two-way player, homered against Houston Astros closer Ryan Pressly to begin Saturday’s ninth inning, propelling a late-game comeback.

The following night, he produced another ninth-inning shot to trim his team’s deficit to one. The Angels ultimately lost that game, dropping a series to their division rivals after blowing two leads late. It marked the Angels’ 11th defeat in 13 games, a stretch that saw them go from legitimate postseason contenders to a team that might actually be forced to trade Ohtani before the Aug. 1 deadline.

Less than 24 hours later, Ohtani — and Griffin Canning, the Angels starter who threw 120 pitches, more than anybody in baseball this season — helped spark a victory the Angels desperately needed.

“After yesterday, you come out on the wrong end today of that one, it can knock you down pretty good,” said Nevin, his team still 5½ games out of the final wild-card spot with two weeks left before the trade deadline. “That one meant a lot, certainly.”

The Yankees, coming off a stunning series loss at the Colorado Rockies that dropped them to last place in the American League East, had taken a 3-1 lead in the top of the seventh in Anaheim on the strength of a two-run double by Oswaldo Cabrera and a sacrifice fly by Gleyber Torres. Ohtani came to bat against right-hander Michael King with a runner on first and two outs, but Yankees manager Aaron Boone didn’t consider intentionally walking him.

“Maybe if he had gotten to second base and fallen behind in the count or something, but no, not there,” said Boone, whose team has lost back-to-back games in which it led by multiple runs in the seventh inning or later for the first time since 1992.

The Yankees, still reeling without Aaron Judge (toe), struck out 17 times and went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.

“I thought we did a lot of good things tonight,” Boone said, “but certain situations there you got to be able to make better adjustments.”

Ohtani’s 35 home runs are one more than he hit all last season and stand as the fifth most through a team’s first 95 games this century, trailing only Barry Bonds (42 in 2001), Luis Gonzalez (37 in 2001), Chris Davis (36 in 2013) and Judge (36 in 2022). Nineteen of Ohtani’s homers have come over his past 31 games.

Ohtani came to bat again in the ninth inning on Monday needing only a triple for the cycle, making it the major-league-leading seventh time he was three-quarters of the way to one this season. Ohtani ultimately struck out, but he had done enough to make the Angels — without injured Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon and a host of other important players — believe for another day.

“Everything that we wanted is still in front of us. He’s a big part of that,” Nevin said of Ohtani.

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