ANAHEIM — It was quite the encore for two-way star Shohei Ohtani.
A night after homering twice and setting a career-high with eight RBIs at the plate, Ohtani set another career high with 13 strikeouts over eight scoreless innings to help lift the Angels to a 5-0 win on Wednesday night at Angel Stadium. Unsurprisingly, Ohtani, who retired 23 of the last 24 batters he faced, became the first player in AL/NL history to have at least eight RBIs in a game and strike out at least 10 batters the next day.
“He just put us on his back,” interim manager Phil Nevin said. “It was just impressive. I thought about taking him out after the seventh but he was adamant, ‘This is mine.’ What a day, what a performance by him.”
In fact, former Braves right-hander Tony Cloninger is the only other player with a 10-strikeout game as a pitcher and an eight-RBI game as a hitter in a career. Cloninger struck out 12 on Opening Day in 1966 and later had nine RBIs, including two grand slams as a pitcher on July 3, 1966, but Cloninger never struck out 13 batters. Ohtani also became just the 19th player in Angels history with 13 strikeouts in a game and the first since Patrick Sandoval last year on July 24 against the Twins.
“There’s still the ‘wow’ factor,” said Kansas City’s Whit Merrifield. “Nobody else is doing what he’s doing. Definitely just a unique, once-in-a-generation-type player, and it’s fun to share the field with him.”
Ohtani, who won the American League MVP unanimously last season, put on a show on the same night the Angels celebrated the 20th anniversary of their 2002 World Series title. It topped his previous high of striking out 12 batters, which he did on April 8, 2018, against the A’s and on April 20 this season against the Astros. He also went 1-for-3 with two walks at the plate Wednesday and is hitting .260/.336/.487 with 15 homers and 45 RBIs in 69 games.
After the pregame ceremony delayed first pitch by about 12 minutes, Ohtani gave up back-to-back singles to open the game. But he settled into a groove from there, retiring the next 16 batters in a row, including 10 via strikeouts, before issuing a walk to Merrifield in the sixth. But he promptly got Andrew Benintendi to ground into a double play to end the inning.
“I think the biggest thing was putting up that zero in the first inning after giving up those two hits, I think it set the tone for the game,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “I was told the game was going to start at 6:49, so I had to throw in the cage to get ready, but I think it was a good learning experience because things come up sometimes.”
Ohtani had everything working and kept his elite velocity despite it being a rare humid night at Angel Stadium that saw flashes of lightning in the distance. He reached 99.9 mph on his 89th pitch of the night before striking out MJ Melendez looking two pitches later on a 3-2 curveball for his 11th strikeout. He then punched out Hunter Dozier on 1-2 splitter on his 96th pitch of the night to end the seventh inning.
“When I saw 99 in the seventh, I knew he wasn’t gassed, at all,” Nevin said. “He wanted [the eighth] and he’s earned it.”
“Watching it every day, you think you get used to the greatness but there’s a lot of things involved with him,” Nevin said. “Just the way his mind is in the game. He’s aware of everything. He’s incredible. To see what he does on a baseball field, it’s fun to be a part of every day.”
Ohtani, who was relieved by Ryan Tepera in the ninth, improved to 6-4 with a 2.90 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 68 1/3 innings over 12 starts this year. He registered 14 swings and misses, including seven with his slider, four with his splitter, two with his fastball and one with his cutter. He also located his slider and curveball well, as he got 19 called strikes with his slider and eight with his curve
“It’s a very unique repertoire of pitches,” said Royals manager Mike Matheny. “I don’t think you’re going to find many guys with as many weapons as what we saw today. He was throwing it all for strikes. He was throwing three different sliders, plus a cutter and a curve. When the split started going, that’s really when the strikeouts started adding up. And he’s got 100 in the tank that he hardly ever shows.”