Is Ohtani Mania Over? Or Just Warming Up?

The poor performance by the Los Angeles Angels’ two-way wonder Shohei Ohtani against the Boston Red Sox tells more about baseball and the Red Sox than Ohtani.

Ohtani stole the hearts and imagination of millions of fans after awing in his first three games against the Oakland A’s and Cleveland Indians. The Japanese rookie pitched 18 strikeouts in 13 innings. His splitter fastball seemed unhittable. He also proved just as dangerous at the plate, hitting .367, including 3 home runs and 11 RBIs.

On Tuesday night, forty-five thousand fans filled Angel Stadium—the second largest crowd since 1998 when it was renovated. Many saw the showdown with the number one ranked Red Sox as the ultimate test of Ohtani’s star power. Ohtani met his match early, however, against leadoff Mookie Betts, dubbed by Red Sox blog Surviving Grady as the meeting of an Unstoppable Force (Ohtani) with an Immovable Object (Betts). Betts, one of the most difficult to strike out in the league, took two strikes from Ohtani before driving one out of the park. Ohtani fell apart after that. He gave up four hits and two walks as the Red Sox racked up a total of three runs against him. The Angels pulled him midway through the second inning, citing a blister on his pitching hand.

Although Ohtani both pitched and hit poorly during spring training, allusions that Ohtani’s latest performance represents his true baseball prowess, and not the Ohtani against the A’s and Indians, hardly holds up. The Red Sox hit off Luke Bard even more brutally than they did off Ohtani, clipping the Angels’ wings with a humiliating 10-1 victory. Betts homered twice more, making it the third three-homer game of his career, tying a Red Sox record with Ted Williams.

Several commentators have brought the typical problems for Japanese pitchers into play, such as the different ball structure and the mound height. But Ohtani has had ample time to make the necessary American adjustments, and those impediments didn’t seem to hurt him against the A’s and Indians. The morale loss with Betts’ opening homerun, however, cannot be discounted. The showdown of champions occurred, and Betts won. This gave the Red Sox a clear momentum advantage.

More than Ohtani’s showing his weakness against the Red Sox, the Red Sox showed that they are truly a force to be reckoned with and the hottest team in the MLB right now. Ohtani’s poor performance no doubt deflated some fans’ hopes who see him as the Second Coming of Babe Ruth. But it’s far too early for Ohtani’s fans to lose hope that this wunderkind will help make baseball the greatest American sport again and lift the Angels to unpredicted success this year.

Ohtani’s first three games were not flukes. But as ESPN’s David Schoenfield put it, “Shohei Ohtani was making the game look a little too easy, and it most certainly is not easy.”