‘He wants to win in the worst way’ – Ohtani leads the Angels again

Alden Gonzalez, ESPN Staff Writer July 18, 2023, 03:09 AM ET

CloseESPN baseball reporter. Covering the LA Rams for ESPN from 2016 to 2018 and the LA Angels for from 2012 to 2016.

ANAHEIM, California — A baseball soared high into the night sky, and hitter Shohei Ohtani followed suit — the latter flipping five times before landing somewhere between the batter’s box and the first base dugout; the former traveled 403 feet straight to 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 batting exploits over the past 2½ years have been well documented and thoroughly celebrated. What is still not fully understood, perhaps, is how hard he chased greatness and how much he wanted to win. But moments like those on Monday — an epic streak midway through the seventh inning, a game-tying homer, a major-league 35th lead — provided a window into that desire.

Everything he does counts towards being the best player in the world, for the purpose of winning, said Angels manager Phil Nevin after his team’s 4-3 win over the New York Yankees. “Everything else that comes with it is great, but he wants to win, in the worst way. This has frustrated him the last two weeks, as has everyone.

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

Editors’ Choice

Ohtani’s home run marked the third game in a row in which he went deep in the seventh or so innings; it set the stage for Michael Stefanic, who grew up supporting the Boston Red Sox, to deliver a 10th-minute walk-off punch against Yankees southpaw Nick Ramirez.

Ohtani, racking up 60 home runs in his third full season as a two-way player, scored against the Houston Astros nearer Ryan Pressly to start Saturday’s ninth inning, prompting a late comeback.

The next night, he hit another shot in the ninth to cut his team’s deficit to one. The Angels ended up losing that game, dropping a series to their divisional rivals after going ahead twice too late. It marked the Angels’ 11th loss in 13 games, a stretch that saw them go from a legitimate postseason contender to a team that may 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 anyone in baseball this season — helped spark the Angels’ much-needed win.

“After yesterday, you came out on the wrong end today, that could knock you out pretty good,” said Nevin, his team still 5½ games from the last wild card spot with two weeks remaining before the trade deadline. “Which meant a lot, of course.”

The Yankees, who suffered a stunning series loss in the Colorado Rockies that dropped them to last place in the American League East, have taken a 3-1 lead in the top seven in Anaheim on the strength of a two-hit double by Oswaldo Cabrera and a sacrifice fly by Gleyber Torres. Ohtani came to bat against left-hander Michael King with a runner on first and second, but Yankees manager Aaron Boone did not consider dropping him on purpose.

“Maybe if he gets to second base and falls behind by a count or something, but no, not there,” said Boone, whose team has lost back-to-back games led by multiple runs in the seventh inning or later for the first time since 2011. 1992.

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

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

Ohtani’s 35 home runs was one more than he hit all last season and stands as fifth most through the team’s first 95 games of the 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 last 31 games.

Ohtani came to bat again in the ninth inning on Monday needing only a triple for the cycle, making him the premier league leader the seventh time he has been three quarters to one this season. Ohtani eventually struck, but he has done enough to keep the Angels – without the injured Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon and a host of other key players – believing for another day.

“Everything we could ever want was still right in front of us. He was a big part of it,” Nevin said of Ohtani.

Related Articles

Back to top button