Shohei Ohtani is a baseball player with talent unlike anyone else on the planet right now. The Orioles, whose roster is full of baseball players with a lack of talent like few others in MLB right now, had the misfortune of running into Ohtani the hitter and baserunner on Friday night. He is not the only reason they lost the game, but he is the biggest. When all was said and done, the O’s had been walked off by the Angels, 8-7.
The game-ending drama revolved around Ohtani in the ninth inning. In a 7-7 game and with Rule 5 pick Tyler Wells having just cruised through two innings, O’s manager Brandon Hyde decided to bring in lefty Paul Fry to face the left-handed Ohtani. Earlier in the game, Ohtani had homered off of Keegan Akin, as well as off of Dillon Tate, driving in three runs across those two dingers. He is the major league leader in home runs with 30.
Fry threw one strike, three pitches nowhere near the strike zone, and one pitch that’s only a strike when a horrible umpire is working. Ohtani walked. It is the ninth walk Fry has issued since the beginning of June. Ohtani tried to steal second base while Fry pitched to Anthony Rendon. It was successful except that Rendon clipped catcher Pedro Severino with his swing.
Rendon eventually struck out, and Ohtani just went ahead and stole second base on the first pitch thrown to the next batter, first baseman Jared Walsh. That’s Ohtani’s 12th steal of the season. The Twitter account Stats by Stats noted after Ohtani hit his 30th home run of the season that he is the first American League player ever to have 30+ homers and 10+ steals within his team’s first 81 games. This was the 81st Angels game and 82nd Orioles game of the year.
Walsh has not been a slouch in the 2021 season either. He entered Friday’s game with 20 home runs and an OPS over .900. He’s a lefty batter as well, though, so Fry pitched to Walsh rather than pitch around him to face light-hitting outfielder Luis Rengifo, who’d come on as a defensive replacement and whose spot was due up next.
After taking a ball, Walsh ripped Fry’s pitch 109 miles per hour on a line drive that perfectly one-bounced into the glove of Ryan McKenna in right field. McKenna was the Orioles own defensive replacement, surely with the hope that he would be able to provide more range patrolling right field than the still-hobbled Anthony Santander.
As things turned out, the play McKenna was involved in required a strong, accurate throw to home plate. Ohtani, whose speed we have just established, was flying around third all the way. Accurate is never a guarantee when 2021 Orioles outfielders are involved, but he did get the ball to Severino. The problem is that the throw from not particularly deep in right field still two-hopped just to get to Severino. Ohtani slid in safely, his foot touching home before Severino could spin around and tag Ohtani on his upper leg.
Maybe Fry should have made a better pitch to a lefty batter. Maybe McKenna should have made a stronger throw home. Maybe the O’s should have just left Santander in right field. Maybe Severino should have made a better tag. Maybe Walsh should have been intentionally walked. Maybe Fry should have done a better job holding Ohtani on first, or the Orioles should get a catcher who can throw out runners at better than a 15% clip.
Wind back farther in the game and there are other maybes. Maybe Keegan Akin could develop a put-away pitch so he doesn’t labor to retire every batter. Maybe Akin could have made a better pitch to former Oriole Jose Iglesias rather than giving up a game-tying home run after the O’s had taken a 2-0 lead. Maybe Akin could have an ERA under 5 instead of having an ERA over 7.
Maybe Pat Valaika shouldn’t have bunted (or been asked to bunt) with men on first and second and none out in the top of the ninth inning, and once he was resolved to bunt, maybe he shouldn’t have failed by popping the ball up directly behind the catcher.
Seriously, just don’t bunt! Even when the batter stinks as much as Valaika has stunk in 2021. Maybe the Orioles needed probable All-Star Cedric Mullins not to go 0-5, including a harmless flyout immediately after Valaika’s failed bunt. The ball would not have turned into a sacrifice fly even if the runners had advanced while Valaika gave himself up.
Maybe, maybe, maybe. They all added up to an Orioles loss, even though the Orioles scored seven runs and bombed Angels starting pitcher Griffin Canning out of the game before the end of the third inning, even though Trey Mancini homered for the first time since being picked for the Home Run Derby, even though Domingo Leyba hit his first major league homer, even though Austin Hays and Mancini had multi-hit games, even though Spenser Watkins pitched a scoreless inning in his MLB debut, even though Wells got six outs in 18 pitches.
As an Orioles fan, especially if you are an Orioles fan who stayed up after midnight to watch the game end this way, it is easy to be frustrated. But when you get down to it, one of these two teams had the best player in the American League, if not all of baseball. The other team was the 2021 Orioles, for whom winning is not strategically relevant. (The worst-in-the-league Diamondbacks lost again Friday to fall to 23-61, six losses behind the Orioles.) It is no surprise that Ohtani cashed in his chances against this roster. He will probably get more chances on Saturday and Sunday.
The series continues on Saturday night with an even later 10:07 Eastern start time. Former Oriole Alex Cobb is set to pitch for the Angels, with Jorge López on the mound for the Orioles. Maybe eventually the Orioles will win four games in a row this year.