'It doesn't feel real:' Ohtani locks Tigers up with his arm, clubs them with his bat
Detroit — Rookie Tarik Skubal was impressive Wednesday night, but in a mortal man kind of way.
What Shohei Ohtani was doing, well, that kind of performance hasn't much been seen in this millennium.
"What he does on the mound and what he does at the plate, it's unbelievable to watch," Skubal said. "For him to do it all year long, lead the league in homers with a 2.7 ERA — it's like not real. It doesn't feel real. He's just a great player."
Not only did Ohtani shut the Tigers' offense down for eight innings, he also launched a gigantic home run in the top of the eighth to help the Angels beat the Tigers for the second night in a row, 3-1, before another lively crowd (27,282) at Comerica Park.
"He was clearly in charge of that game tonight," Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. "If you take the competition out and the agony of the loss, it's incredible to see what he's doing. He's just a real big piece of why baseball is great."
Ohtani was preserving a 2-1 lead when he locked onto a slider from reliever Jose Cisnero. The ball left his bat with an exit velocity of 110 mph and soared 430 feet, just missing the second deck in right field.
The fans at Comerica chanted, "MVP, MVP," as Ohtani circled the bases. Hard to argue. It was his 40th home run and he blew through eight innings in 90 pitches. The Tigers certainly couldn’t crack his five-pitch code.
"He's an incredible, special talent that we got to witness," Hinch said. "Unfortunately at the expense of us."
The last pitcher to hit a home run against the Tigers was Yankees Lindy McDaniel on Sept. 28, 1972. According to Sportsradar, the last big-league pitcher to go eight innings and hit a home run was Jon Garland, June 18, 2006.
His only mistake was a hanging curveball to Willi Castro in the fifth. That one left Castro's bat with an exit velocity of 105 mph and flew high and true, staying inside the right-field foul pole.
The Tigers only got one other runner into scoring position. That was in the first and Jonathan Schoop, who was bluffing a tag-and-run, got doubled off second on a fly ball to right.
"I think Schoop looked at where they were positioned and thought maybe the ball was going to be a little bit off the right fielder," Hinch said. "And when he went back, it was a fake break to draw a throw and see if he could get an errant throw.
"(Jo Adell) threw a bullet to second base. It's a magnified mistake when you have runners on base and the middle of the order coming up."
Harold Castro led off the second with a single and was promptly erased in a double-play grounder by Renato Nunez.
"That was just as painful," Hinch said. "You just need to get things started against Ohtani to put some pressure on him."
Miguel Cabrera got one of the six Tigers hits, a single to left in the first inning (career hit No. 2,952). But Ohtani got him the next two times on a rollover ground out and a strikeout. Ohtani followed a 98-mph bullet with a two-strike splitter that Cabrera waved feebly at.
"Obviously he's a great hitter and one of the greatest of all-time," Ohtani told Angels reporters. "And he's a wonderful person when I've dealt with him. He's so respected in the baseball world, it would've been OK if I gave up his 500th homer. Personally I want to see it happen soon."
It almost did. In the ninth, Cabrera faced right-handed reliever Raisel Iglesias and hit the first pitch high and deep, but it died on the track in right field. The fans were that close to going into a frenzy.
Ohtani threw mostly four-seamers and slider, but the 14 splitters he used were deadly. He got 10 swings and six misses off that pitch. Five of his eight strikeouts were with the split.
Skubal may have been overshadowed a bit, but he was impressive in his own right. He made one regrettable pitch in 6.2 otherwise sturdy innings. Unfortunately, it ended up beating him.
With a runner on and two outs in the first inning, he left a 2-2 four-seam fastball (95 mph) out over the plate to former Tiger Justin Upton. It’s never a good thing to let him get his arms extended on a fastball.
Upton sent it 427 feet, beyond the visitor’s bullpen in left-center.
"I just didn't execute a pitch," Skubal said. "It's unfortunate that one pitch, that was the difference in the game. If I execute that pitch up and in, it's a different result completely. I don't think it's a home run. Maybe it's a hit, but I don't think he's running it out of the yard.
"Right pitch, wrong location."
After that little hiccup, though, Skubal got to work. From the second through the sixth, he dispatched 16 of 18 hitters. He finished with seven strikeouts (12 swings and misses) and no walks. On the season, he has 134 strikeouts (third most all-time among Tigers rookies) and just 41 walks.
Skubal had some hair on his fastballs. His two-seamer averaged 95 mph and hit 97 and his four-seam was just a tick under that (94.4). His slider and change-up were also effective for him.
"He was really good," Hinch said. "He responded very well. He kept us right there to the end of his outing. Tarik was really good."