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OC Register: Whicker: Shohei Ohtani’s season of cheerful history-making set the Angels star apart


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On Sept. 19 in Oakland, Matt Olson came to the plate against Shohei Ohtani.

To Ohtani’s surprise, and probably Olson’s, Angels manager Joe Maddon ordered an intentional walk with two outs. Olson, one of the American League’s top sluggers, hits .077 against Ohtani.

The eventual 2021 American League Most Valuable Player retired Mark Canha to end the inning and then smiled on his way back to the dugout.

“He sort of wagged his finger at me,” Maddon said.

Maddon did it again in the seventh inning, with one out and a runner on second. Oakland then loaded the bases, but Ohtani stranded everyone, and he gave Maddon another no-no-no sign when he walked off.

It was just another 3-2 loss for the Angels, but Ohtani became one of the very few pitchers in history to draw and give up an intentional walk. None of his days were routine.

He hit 36 home runs and drove in 100, and he also was the only Angels pitcher to exceed 100 innings. He went 9-2 and permitted a batting average of .217, with an ERA of 3.18.

Ohtani won the MVP even though the Angels were a bystander when it mattered, losing eight more games than they won.

He also is our 2021 local athlete of the year, against strong competition.

• Patrick Cantlay won four events in the 2020-21 PGA Tour season, including the Tour Championship, and was named the tour’s Player of the Year. He finished fourth in the World Golf Rankings.

• Bryce Young, Mater Dei’s quarterback only two years ago, led Alabama into the College Football Playoff. He won the Heisman Trophy and, against SEC competition, had 26 touchdown passes and just three interceptions.

• Allyson Felix, at 36, won bronze in the Olympic 400 meters and was part of the gold medal-winning 4×400 relay team. That gave her 11 medals, more than any other American track athlete in Olympic history.

• Evan Mobley’s only season with USC brought a visit to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001. Then Cleveland took Mobley with the No. 3 pick in the NBA Draft and is watching him make a run at the Rookie of the Year award.

• Colin Sahlman led a Newbury Park High cross country team that is described as the best in the history of the sport. He, Leo Young, Lex Young and Aaron Sahlman – yes, two sets of brothers – finished 1-2-3-4 in the Division I state championship meet. Then Colin and the Youngs posted the three best 5K times in cross country history as Newbury Park won the national championship in Huntsville, Ala.

Meanwhile, Ohtani was breaking down walls with a smile, at least until he hit .202 in August with five home runs. He also struck out 189 times overall.

“There are two things people still don’t realize,” Maddon said. “He didn’t have much support with all the injuries we had. He wasn’t getting anything to hit.

“And look at the games played (155). He’s such a good athlete that he didn’t wear down. I mean, he went from zero innings (pitched) to 130 without missing a beat.”

Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon combined for 94 games, 14 home runs and 52 RBIs. Ohtani was intentionally walked 20 times.

He was actually a more consistent pitcher. Ohtani had 14 quality starts out of 23. He threw 100 or more pitches in three of his final four games. After June 30 he pitched six or more innings in nine of his 11 starts.

“I managed Yu Darvish in Chicago and Shohei is very similar,” Maddon said. “It all starts with the fastball command. When it’s there, he can use almost any other pitch and be successful. His instincts are really on a high level for a pitcher that young. And he’s just great to be around. Nothing is lost in translation with him.

“His health is always the paramount thing. In a six-man rotation, I can see him pitching more innings next year. But we have to make all our plans based on October. We expect to be playing then.”

That assumes quite a bit. Trout and Rendon must play at All-Star levels and Jared Walsh,  Brandon Marsh and Jo Adell must bring six months of consistency.

The Angels re-signed closer Rasiel Iglesias and got Aaron Loup and Michael Lorenzen for set-up relief. But they clearly have some heavy wood to chop whenever the lockout ends and the flesh peddling resumes.

Just as clearly, their leader is a 27-year-old original whose strength is his unavoidability. What kind of double trouble could Ohtani spread if the Angels could help him out? After all, he’s only two men.

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