ANAHAIM, CA – Shohei Otani was only taking a second hit, and Phil Nevin, on his third night as interim manager of the Los Angeles Angels, sensed that something special might be afoot. He turned to his bowler coach, Matt Wise, and conveyed his intuition.
“He’s got that look, right?” Nevin said.
The Angels were struggling and floundering, delivered by Ohtani—the announcer of the team who suffered losses for Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon and Taylor Ward. His seven one-stroke innings and a timely match propelled the Angels to a 5-2 victory over the inflamed Boston Red Sox Thursday night, ending their 14-game record-breaking streak of defeat.
It was the kind of performance the angels needed most.
It was the kind of performance only Otani could give.
“Shuhei was wonderful,” Trout said. “as always.”
The Angels’ losing streak was the longest ever for a team with the best player on their roster, surpassing number 13 in a row by the 1985 Chicago Cubs of Ren Sandburg and 11 in a row by the 1995 Houston Astros by Jeff Bagwell. But Ohtani, who unanimously won the MLS Player of the Year award last season, made sure it wasn’t extended any further. He became the fifth player since 1900 and the first since 1969 to hit a home run to win a victory that cut short a losing streak of at least 10 matches, according to research by the Elias Sports Bureau.
“Obviously, she definitely wanted to win this,” Ohtani said through his translator. “Especially on the days when I play – I just wanted to put the team in a place that has a chance to win, and I felt like I could do that today.”
Having allowed nine runs in nine rounds over his previous starts, Ohtani limited the Red Sox – who had been a seven-game winning streak heading inside – to six starts and produced 18 swings and failures, 15 times more than his seven-day accumulation earlier against New York Yankees. He achieved a fresh off season in pitches (100) and fast ball speed (101 mph), and he also seemed to come alive with an offensive tackle.
Ohtani cut only .192/.333/.383 during the Angels’ 14-game losing streak, but gave them a 2-1 lead with two-stroke Homer in fifth and added a solo streak in seventh. Light-hitting quarterback Andrew Velasquez who was riding a 0-for-22 slack, broke the open game with Homer from three runs in sixth, sending the Angels their first win since May 24, when the team stood 10. games over .500.
Post-game Angels at home festivities have been particularly rowdy this season, complete with strobe lights, fire pits, and gifts. The prolonged absence of one lifted Thursday to another level.
“I felt like we won a playoff today,” Velasquez said. “Just a great relief.”
The Angels’ losing streak was the longest for a team that had at least 10 games above 0.500 when that streak began, according to Elias. Only three teams have ever achieved a post-season despite a double-digit defeat streak – the 2017 Los Angeles Dodgers, 1982 Atlanta Braves and 1951 New York Giants, none of them dropping more than 11 in a row.
The Angels, who abruptly sacked Joe Maddon as their manager on Tuesday, are currently 0.500 games short and 2½ times from sixth and final in the MLS playoffs, but believe they can return to as the team that dominated. The first six weeks.
“We know what we’re capable of,” Velasquez said. “We have the same guys here.”
The Angels outperformed their opponents by 53 points in their first 44 games but outnumbered a total of 45 goals in the next 14 games.
Trout pulled off an unsuccessful track in the worst of his career, hitting 26 strokes, then adjusting the thigh on Tuesday night. Rendon (wrist) Ward (hamstring) landed on the injured list, robbing the Angels from the top lineup that had them so strong for most of April and half of May. Ohtani struggled, the bulls exploded, the novices couldn’t get deep into play and the short-handed attack consistently failed to score kicks.
The Angels lost three straight games of one round to the Toronto Blue Jays, then outnumbered the Yankees 17-3. The Philadelphia swept their Phillies in a three-game streak, eventually capturing Bryce Harper’s Grand Slam power in the eighth inning. The Red Sox then won three straight games of one tournament, two of which saw the Angels disqualified.
On Tuesday, Angels General Manager Perry Minasian fired Madon, the three-time General Manager who had previously helped turn the Angels franchise into a consistent winner. On Wednesday, one of Maddon’s closest friends, assistant coach Tim Buss, walked into the hitter box of a Nickelback song in an effort to lighten the mood. But Ohtani’s dominance has proven to be the only effective antidote.
It gave Nevin his first win as a major league manager – and eventually earned him the match ball.
“Shuhei gave it to me,” said Nevin. “That was elegant.”