Shohei Ohtani’s dominant performance in the Home Run Derby was a reminder that baseball is a game of adjustments. The Angels’ star pitcher won the night without actually winning the contest, and it will be interesting to see how he does in his first full season as a hitter.
Shohei Ohtani won the night without winning the Home Run Derby. He hit a total of two home runs and finished with a score of 13.
1:33 A.M. ET
ESPN’s Jeff Passan
- MLB insider on ESPN
- Author of “The Arm: Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of Sports’ Most Valuable Commodity,” “The Arm: Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of Sports’ Most Valuable Commodity”
DENVER (AP) — Trey Mancini strolled aimlessly in foul zone at Coors Field about 15 minutes before Shohei Ohtani made the most anticipated debut in Home Run Derby history, kicking off a whirlwind 24 hours in which he would both start the All-Star Game as a pitcher and lead off as the designated hitter. Mancini had won his first-round derby battle but was concerned that he wouldn’t be ready for the next.
“I’m not sure whether I should be getting ready,” Mancini remarked. “However, I don’t want to be without Shohei.”
Shohei Ohtani is a master at this. He makes fanboys out of guys who are the greatest in the world at what they do. He makes putty out of admirers who can’t comprehend what he does. He tackles the notion that Major League Baseball isn’t hip, engaging, or entertaining and disproves it with his performance alone. He pushes the boundaries of athletic accomplishment to the brink — and sometimes beyond what we thought was possible. He reduces the globe down to a 5-ounce ball that he can strike 500 feet and push at 100 mph, from his native country of Japan to the United States and beyond.
Days like Monday are crucial in understanding who Ohtani is, why he counts, and how he symbolizes the world of sports, which has the power to unite this nation like nothing else. Even if the top-seeded Ohtani lost in an epic first-round derby matchup against Washington Nationals star Juan Soto, the reactions of those who witnessed it — from his peers to Ken Griffey Jr. to the over 50,000 fans who packed the stadium to the millions who watched — told a far greater story than Ohtani could ever tell with his words.
If sports teaches us anything, it’s that people’s actions often matter more than their words — that the mere idea of Ohtani doing what Babe Ruth did in the major leagues, what Double Duty Radcliffe and Bullet Rogan did in the minor leagues, and doing it in an era when baseball players are more talented than they’ve ever been is incredible. On Monday morning, Stephen A. Smith attempted to argue that Ohtani’s employment of an interpreter to interact with the media restricts the audience he and baseball may attract. It was rightly mocked straight away, and Smith subsequently apologized, which was a good thing since Monday night invalidated the whole concept.
Nobody watches a sporting event to hear what athletes have to say. It may be significant, noble, and moral, but it is not the attraction. The athlete is the one in question. It’s what he does. What she accomplishes. Anyone who only watches baseball when Ohtani speaks to the media in English rather than Japanese does not deserve the delight and pleasure of doing so.
What Ohtani showed on Monday perfectly exemplified a skill set so appealing, a mood so enticing, and a story so unlike any other in sports that anybody watching couldn’t help but fall in love. He sat on a dais earlier in the day, introducing the game’s starters, and admired Max Scherzer, the future Hall of Famer and his National League starting pitcher opponent. Ohtani attempted to put what he was doing into perspective, but how can anybody when it’s so unique?
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Ohtani’s ability to hit and throw with equal grandeur is remarkable, but his attitude isn’t far behind. As evaluators ripped apart his swing and journalists — including yours me, misguidedly — questioned whether he could really play both ways during his first big league spring training in 2018, Ohtani never lost faith, never lost sight of who he is, how he works, and why he believes. Yes, he is a hero of achievement, but he is also a figure of persistence. It’s no surprise, therefore, that when Mancini took the field, Ohtani sat on a Gatorade cooler, his bat between his knees, conversing and joking with Ippei Mizuhara, his translator and confidant. Ohtani drew the attention of the whole stadium. The whole world was watching him. And all he did was make jokes, as if the weight of a few million eyes was nothing.
“Nice to meet you,” Ohtani replied as Griffey, arguably the last baseball star with near global appeal, came to introduce himself. By the way, he does know English, as shown by a pre-derby phone conversation with his buddy and former teammate Albert Pujols, who offered some advise. What counsel could Pujols, Junior, or anybody else give Ohtani that he doesn’t already have? He’s 27 years old, and he’s had his adoptive country enthralled and his home country enthralled, and here he was, cool enough to slink down into the tunnel beneath the dugout, grab a Glacier Cherry Gatorade Zero, take a swig, and ask his pitcher, Jason Brown, “Ready?” as Soto finished his first round. Brown smiled and nodded. Ohtani gave a kind grin. It has come to an end.
Brown remarked, “That’s who he is,” as he walked onto the field. “This is what he does on a daily basis.”
Think about it. Ohtani bears his own expectations, the pressure of those eyes, and the weight of attempting to accomplish something no one has done in decades every day, and he does it while laughing, smiling, and making faces. Then, with the tension at an all-time high and the stadium on fire, he rolls over the first pitch Brown delivers. Then there was another. And then there was another. And then there was another, and another, and another, and another, and another, and another, and another, and another, and another, and another, And it’s essential to bring out all of the others, too, because it did matter at the time — nine consecutive swings to begin without a home run in an event when the goal is to hit home runs exclusively.
Then something occurred. He hit a home run, then another, then another, and so on. He called a pause and accepted a call from Mike Trout, his teammate and the long-time Best Player in the World. Ohtani returned re-energized, hitting home runs high and far into the humid night. Brown’s meatballs were especially delicious to his left-handed swing — front toe angled inward, hands looping into a loaded posture, hips firing quicker than a whip snap, barrel meeting ball, moon shot beginning. The last two of Ohtani’s 16 home runs traveled 513 feet and 500 feet before the three-minute clock ran out.
On his hands and knees, he fell. Ohtani had earned a minute of extra time, which he would use to equal Soto for the most home runs with 22, but he was clearly exhausted. In the minute-long tiebreaker round, Soto hit six. Ohtani seemed to be on his way to defeating him, but he missed his last three strokes and was stranded on 28 as well. Two of baseball’s most formidable hitters were going head to head. It was hypnotizing. And then there was a swing-off.
Soto hit home homers on all three pitches he faced. Ohtani has to be on par with him. The first pitch was turned over by him. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Fernando Tatis Jr., two of the game’s greatest rising stars, approached Ohtani almost immediately to dap and embrace him. They’re from the Dominican Republic, so they know what it’s like to come to the United States and play in a sport where there are still individuals on the inside and fans on the outside who don’t realize that this is a global game. Although the Dominican Republic and Japan are hundreds of miles apart, their baseball experiences are similar.
Ohtani put on a display on Monday night. He didn’t win like Pete Alonso, hit as many home runs as Mancini, or beat Soto. And it didn’t really matter. Because, in the midst of a tumultuous period in America for people of Asian ancestry, when so many have been exposed to heinous violence and abuse, Shohei Ohtani, a Japanese guy, began his record 24-hour stint playing America’s sport with a bang. It makes no difference if the language is English or Japanese. Ohtani can only be described in one word, and it isn’t up to interpretation: incredible.
Shohei Ohtani won the night without winning the Home Run Derby. The American League’s MVP, who was a late addition to the derby, hit four home runs in his first round and was eliminated by eventual winner Joc Pederson. Reference: home run derby contestants 2021.
Frequently Asked Questions
How did Ohtani do in the Home Run Derby?
Ohtani hit two home runs in the Home Run Derby.
Did Ohtani win the Home Run Derby?
How did Ohtani get the win?
Ohtani got the win by hitting a home run.
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