ANAHEIM, Calif. – Shohei Ohtani was facing only his second batter, and Phil Nevin, in his third night as the Los Angeles Angels’ interim manager, sensed something special might be afoot. He turned to his pitching coach, Matt Wise, and relayed his intuition.
“He’s got that look, doesn’t he?” Nevin said.
The Angels were struggling, floundering, and Ohtani – the anchor of a team suffering through the loss of Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon and Taylor Ward – delivered for them. His seven one-run innings and his well-timed home run propelled the Angels to a 5-2 victory against a red-hot Boston Red Sox team on Thursday night and ended their franchise-record-setting losing streak at 14 games.
It was the type of performance the Angels desperately needed.
It was the type of performance only Ohtani could provide.
“Shohei was unbelievable,” Trout said. “As always.”
The Angels’ losing streak was the longest ever for a team with a reigning MVP on its roster, passing the 13 straight by the 1985 Chicago Cubs of Ryne Sandberg and the 11 straight by the 1995 Houston Astros of Jeff Bagwell. But Ohtani, who won the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award unanimously last season, made sure it didn’t extend further. He became the fifth player since 1900 and the first since 1969 to hit a home run and earn a win in the victory that snapped a losing streak of at least 10 games, according to research by the Elias Sports Bureau.
“Obviously, definitely wanted to win this one,” Ohtani said through his interpreter. “Especially on the days I pitch – I just wanted to put the team in a spot to have a chance to win, and I felt like I was able to do that today.”
Coming off allowing nine runs in nine innings over his previous two starts, Ohtani limited the Red Sox – who were winners of seven in a row heading in – to six baserunners and generated 18 swings and misses, 15 more than he accumulated seven days earlier against the New York Yankees. He set a new season high in pitches (100) and fastball velocity (101 mph), and he also seemed to come alive offensively.
Ohtani slashed only .192 / .333 / .383 during the Angels’ 14-game losing streak, but he gave them a 2-1 lead with an opposite-field two-run homer in the fifth and added a line-drive single in the seventh. Andrew Velazquez, a light-hitting middle infielder who was riding an 0-for-22 slump, broke the game open with a three-run homer in the sixth, sending the Angels to their first win since May 24, when the team stood 10 games above .500.
The Angels’ postgame celebrations at home have been especially boisterous this season, complete with strobe lights, fire pits and giveaways. The prolonged absence of one elevated Thursday’s to another level.
“It felt like we won a playoff game today,” Velazquez said. “Just a big relief.”
The Angels’ losing streak was the longest for a team that was at least 10 games above .500 when that streak began, according to Elias. Only three teams have ever made the postseason despite a double-digit losing streak – the 2017 Los Angeles Dodgers, the 1982 Atlanta Braves and the 1951 New York Giants, none of whom dropped more than 11 straight.
The Angels, who abruptly fired Joe Maddon as their manager on Tuesday, are currently three games below .500 and 2 1/2 games back of the sixth and final playoff spot in the American League, but they believe they can get back to resembling the team that dominated the first six weeks.
“We know what we’re capable of,” Velazquez said. “We have the same guys in here.”
The Angels outscored opponents by 53 runs through their first 44 games but were outscored by a combined 45 over their next 14.
Over the next 14, they were outscored by 45.
Trout navigated through a career-worst 26-game hitless stretch, then tweaked his groin on Tuesday night. Rendon (wrist) and Ward (hamstring) landed on the injured list, robbing the Angels of the menacing top of the lineup that made them such a force for most of April and half of May. Ohtani struggled, the bullpen imploded, the starters couldn’t pitch deep into games and a short-handed offense consistently failed to score runs.
The Angels lost three consecutive one-run games to the Toronto Blue Jays, then were outscored 17-3 by the Yankees. The Philadelphia Phillies swept them in a three-game series, capturing the finale on the strength of Bryce Harper’s eighth-inning grand slam. Then the Red Sox won three consecutive one-run games, two of which saw the Angels get shut out. p>
It gave Nevin his first win as a major league manager – and it ultimately earned him the game ball.
“Shohei gave it to me,” Nevin said. “That was neat.”