It was sure to be clever in “The Natural” when Roy Hobbs belted the ball into the stadium clock, smashing it. A great moment in a fanciful story.
Shohei Ohtani has been making the fanciful look real.
With the bases loaded in the Eighth Inning of his Angels’ game in Boston on Thursday, he smacked the ball off Fenway Park’s manual scoreboard, dislodging one of the numbers there.
The scoreboard had 17 posts posted by the current Angels pitcher, Ohtani. When his drive hit the board with the force, the other numbers stayed in place, but 17, as if by forethought, dropped. Ohtani had an impact on Fenway Park that almost crossed into the cinematic.
A quick play by outfielder Alex Verdugo, along with the clogged basepaths, limited the eye-opening smash to a single.
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(Ohtani had another bizarrely long single earlier in the game when his deep fly ball was lost in the sun and fell for a hit. The runner on first had to be delayed to see if it would be caught.)
Ohtani’s batting line-up ended 2 for 4 with a run and an RBI in an 8-0 victory. And yes, as the scoreboard indicated, he was also the starting pitcher and was a little more useful in that role. In his first career start at Fenway, he gave up six hits and no runs in seven innings with 11 strikeouts and no walks.
“I was looking forward to pitching here,” he told reporters through an interpreter. To the Red Sox that feeling may have been foreboding.
Ohtani, who won the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award last year thanks to his two-way brilliance, is off to a slow start in the first 26 games of the season. He is hitting .240 with four home runs (he had 46 last season). On the mound he’s been bigger, with a 3-2 record that shortchanges his 3.08 ERA and the fact that he’s allowed only 1.03 walks and hits per inning pitched.
A few humdrum early stats have rarely taken away from the wow factor. Since he has been doing it for a year, fans may still need to remind themselves of the remarkable fact: Shohei Ohtani is a starting pitcher who bats for himself and is on his team’s designated hitter on days he doesn’t pitch.
That gave him a string of superlatives that would often include the line “first since Babe Ruth.” (And it happens that Ruth did a lot of his pitching at Fenway, when he was a member of the Red Sox.)
“I hope we don’t start taking for granted like it’s an old hat,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said after the game. “It’s just so unusual. It’s otherworldly on this level; of this game, which I think is the most difficult game. “
And Angels fans will be more focused on some other numbers: The presence of the consensus best player in baseball, Mike Trout, the team has made the playoffs since 2014. But with the second best record in the American League, the team looks set to break that slide.
Leaving the open question: What will Ohtani possibly do in the playoffs?
Just for reference, Roy Hobbs – who wowed onlookers earlier in the film with his pitching ability striking out a fictionalized version of Ruth – finished his memorable season by smashing the stadium lights with a home run. It almost seems possible.