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Shohei Ohtani hits 34th home run vs. Astros

HOUSTON — Coming off a game in which Shohei Ohtani earned his 12th pitching win of the season, the two-way star continued to make his case to win the American League MVP Award for a second straight season.

Ohtani went 2-for-4 and golfed his 34th home run in the 12-4 loss to the AL West leaders on Sunday afternoon at Minute Maid Park. It was the final contest between the two clubs this season.

“It definitely leads to motivation to do better and try to go for that hardware,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara on Aug. 31. “It’s something I think about. But for the most part, I take it game by game and at-bat by at-bat. At the end of the [season], we’ll count it all up.”

Ohtani bolstered his MVP case on the mound Saturday by allowing just one run on six hits with seven strikeouts over five innings. His seven punchouts on Saturday brought his total to 188 on the season, inching him closer to becoming the first player in AL/NL history with 200 strikeouts as a pitcher and 30 home runs as a hitter.

The reigning MVP also blitzed a 101.4 mph sinker for the fastest pitch of his career and the fastest by an Angels pitcher in the pitch-tracking era (since 2008). 

The production has been matched at the plate, as Ohtani showed on Sunday. The two-way sensation went down and golfed a 78.4 mph curveball a Statcast-projected 388 feet into the right-field seats for a two-run shot in the first inning. What makes it more impressive is it came after he exited his start early with a blister on his right index finger on Saturday.

Ohtani, who’s slashing .266/.355/.539 in 135 games this season, also roped a ground-rule double in the third inning. He leads the Angels in hits (134), runs scored (80) and RBIs (88).

Pitching aside, Ohtani’s offensive numbers are easily comparable, if not on the brink of surpassing what he accomplished last season:

2021: Ohtani slashed .257/.372/.592 with 46 homers, 26 doubles, eight triples, 100 RBIs, 103 runs scored and 26 stolen bases in 158 games (5.0 fWAR).

2022: Ohtani is slashing .266/.455/.539 with 34 homers, 23 doubles, six triples, 88 RBIs, 80 runs scored and 11 stolen bases in 135 games (3.4 fWAR).

Ohtani’s production has built a compelling case for voters as he goes up against the Yankees’ Aaron Judge, even for someone who has been teammates with both players. 

“What Judge is doing is historic, and I got to witness last year up close the player he is and teammate he is,” said shortstop Andrew Velazquez, who hit his first homer batting right-handed on Sunday. “He’s very valuable, but no one else can do what Shohei is. He is a top hitter and pitcher — he’s a once-in-a-lifetime player.”

The race becomes increasingly close when the milestones Ohtani has achieved are taken into account, such as becoming the first player in AL/NL history to hit 30 or more home runs while also winning 10 or more games in a season.

“I think the trophy is his, as long as he continues to do what he is doing on both sides of the ball,” interim manager Phil Nevin said. “No one else can do what he is doing. When you talk about the best player, which I believe that’s what the trophy is about — the best player and most valuable player to our game — it’s our guy Shohei.”

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