Sports

Ohtani K’s Vlad in showdown between MVP rivals

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Shohei Ohtani grinned and laughed after Vladimir Guerrero Jr. bounced a single to left field in the Toronto Blue Jays slugger’s first career plate appearance against the Los Angeles Angels‘ two-way superstar.

When he struck out Guerrero with a wicked slider two innings later, Ohtani smiled and chuckled at that one, too.

Ohtani had plenty of fun in his first mound meeting with most likely his strongest competitor for the American League MVP award. He also did plenty against the rest of the Blue Jays to secure another win for the Angels.

Ohtani pitched six innings of three-hit ball to win his third consecutive start, and he also doubled and scored an early run in the Angels’ 6-3 victory Thursday night.

Although Ohtani (7-1) issued three walks for the first time since June and threw two wild pitches in his 17th mound start of the season, he allowed just two runs and struck out six to keep his ERA at 2.93.

“I haven’t been feeling really that great, but when I don’t have my best stuff, I’ve been finding ways to get outs and getting through innings,” Ohtani said through an interpreter. “Physically, I feel really good, but I just feel I’m getting better each outing, and I feel like I really haven’t hit my potential yet.”

Guerrero faced Ohtani’s pitching for the first time in their careers, and the majors’ No. 2 home run hitter went 1-for-2 with that bouncing single, a walk and a strikeout against the majors’ leader in homers.

“I had a lot of fun facing him, but not just him,” Ohtani said. “Their whole lineup is really good. They’ve got top-notch hitters, so I had a lot of fun facing all those guys.”

Toronto manger Charlie Montoyo also watched the showdown closely.

“It honestly was just OK,” Montoyo said. “Vladdy right now is struggling a little bit, so he’s not the Vladdy who’s locked in. It’s fun to watch. It’s two guys fighting for the MVP, so it was good to watch.”

Guerrero and Ohtani are among the AL leaders in numerous offensive statistical categories. Guerrero leads Ohtani in OPS (1.123 to 1.017) and RBIs (88 to 84), while Ohtani is ahead of Guerrero in homers (38 to 35) and slugging percentage (.655 to .617).

But Ohtani has dimensions to his game that have never been matched in modern baseball, and Angels manager Joe Maddon said it’s “overtly obvious to me” that Ohtani is the AL MVP.

“There’s no argument against it,” Maddon added. “Vladdy is having a great year, and I really like the kid a lot, but what our guy is doing has never been done before and is unprecedented. That’s where it ends for me, and I’m sure other people feel the same way.”

At the plate, Ohtani hit a 386-foot double off the wall for his major-league-leading 68th extra-base hit as Los Angeles’ leadoff hitter in the first. He also walked and scored during the Angels’ four-run second as they split four games with Toronto at the Big A.

Ohtani hasn’t lost in 10 starts since May. He improved to 5-0 with a 1.92 ERA in 10 starts at Angel Stadium this season. No pitcher in Angels history had ever gone unbeaten with an ERA under 2.00 in his first 10 home starts in a season. Ohtani is also the first Angels hitter with more than 22 homers in his first 57 home games of a season.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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