Shohei Ohtani wrapped up a season unlike almost any other in baseball history with one final flourish in Game 162.
Ohtani hit leadoff in the Los Angeles Angels’ season finale on the road against the Seattle Mariners on Sunday and connected on a home run — his 46th of the season — in his first at-bat to put an exclamation mark on a historic 2021 campaign that captivated fans in both the U.S. and Japan. The homer also gave the Japanese star his first 100-RBI season.
“It was a long season, but I’m happy I was able to reach the end in good shape,” Ohtani said during an on-field interview after the game, which the Angels won 7-3.
Batting leadoff gave Ohtani a chance to see some pitches he could hit after a few weeks filled with teams choosing to either intentionally walk or pitch around him — as the Mariners did after his homer on Sunday.
“That’s probably one of the few places he actually gets pitched to, when he’s leading off,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “So it was great he got another homer, he got his 100th RBI, icing on the cake, whatever you want to call it, cherry on top. Just a fabulous, fabulous year that I believe there’s only one person that can replicate it, and that would be him.”
Home runs from the plate, fastballs — and splitters — from the mound: Ohtani was by far the most interesting player in baseball this season.
One of the standout moments from Ohtani’s 2021 campaign came against the Chicago White Sox on April 5, when hit 162 kph (101 mph) with his fastball in the top of the first inning and then hit a 137-meter (451-foot) home run in the bottom half.
He was even the first player in MLB history to be selected to an All-Star team as both a hitter and a pitcher — five years after being named to the Pacific League’s season-ending Best Nine team as both pitcher and designated hitter in Japan.
The list of Ohtani’s 2021 accomplishments is mind-blowing. He spent a full season as the first truly two-way player in North America since the days of the Negro Leagues and the first in MLB in nearly a century. According to an article by Zack Kram for The Ringer, only 13 players made over 200 plate appearances while pitching more than 100 innings in the same season since 1901. Before Ohtani, Babe Ruth was the only one who had done it after the start of World War I.
Ohtani finished the season third in MLB in home runs behind the Kansas City Royals’ Salvador Perez and the Toronto Blue Jays’ Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who each had 48, while also stealing 26 bases. He joined Jose Canseco (1998) as the only AL players with at least 45 home runs and 25 stolen bases in the same season. He finished tied for the MLB lead with eight triples, and finished fifth with a .965 on-base plus slugging percentage.
Ohtani hit .257 in 537 at-bats and drew 96 walks. He led the AL with 20 intentional walks, finishing second only to the Washington Nationals’ Juan Soto, who had 22, among all players.
That’s enough to warrant MVP consideration, but he was also one of the better pitchers in MLB.
The 27-year-old made 23 starts on the mound, finishing 9-2 with a 3.18 ERA and 156 strikeouts in 130 ⅓ innings. According to numbers released by the Angels, Ohtani was one of four AL starting pitchers to reach 100 mph (161 kph) 14 times.
“I think I was really able to grow this year, so I want to improve on the areas where I need improvement and have a good season next year,” Ohtani said.
Perhaps the most important thing was he managed to remain healthy, as he played in 155 games.
“The best thing is I was able to finish without missing a lot of time,” Ohtani said. “We couldn’t reach the postseason, but I’m going to do my best to aim for that next year.”
He wouldn’t commit to an encore of his historic year during a postgame news conference.
“Obviously, this was my first time doing it, so I can’t tell you with confidence that I’ll be able to do it for many years to come, but all I can do as a player is prepare so I would be able to continue this for many years. In order to do that, I need to have a good offseason training-wise and good recovery.”
Ohtani ended his fourth MLB season as the frontrunner to win the AL MVP Award. He would become just the second Japanese player to be named MVP in either league, joining Mariners great Ichiro Suzuki, who won AL MVP honors in 2001.
One of the few things Ohtani didn’t achieve this year was reaching the playoffs, and both he and teammate Mike Trout, a three-time AL MVP, expressed their desire to play on a winning team. Ohtani was asked about signing an extension with the Angels after Sunday’s game.
“I would be very open to it,” Ohtani said during the postgame news conference. “The team has supported me through these four years and I’m really appreciative of that.”
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