Rafu Wire and Staff Reports
ANAHEIM – Thriving in the heat of a big-name showdown, the Los Angeles Angels’ Shohei Ohtani became the first Japan-born MLB player with two 30-home run seasons as he drove in the winning runs in Wednesday’s 3-2 victory and a series win against the New York Yankees.
The three-game clash cast a spotlight on the top contenders for this year’s American League MVP, Angels two-way star Ohtani and Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge. Both homered twice in the series, Judge’s blast Wednesday being his MLB-leading 51st homer.
“Of course, (playing against Judge) motivates me,” Ohtani said. “By playing to win and doing my best, the numbers come naturally.
“He has high-quality at-bats, and I learn just from watching him. He’s a tremendous hitter.”
In the first inning at Angel Stadium with a runner on, Ohtani missed a home run by inches, his drive caught at the top of the wall by Yankees center fielder Aaron Hicks.
“I wanted that one in my first at-bat, and thought if I had another chance I wanted to take a crack at another one,” Ohtani said.
That chance came in the sixth when he crushed a 427-foot homer to center off Yankees starter Gerrit Cole (10-7). The three-run homer overturned a two-run deficit.
“It was a scoring opportunity, and if I got strikes to hit I was going to go after them, and the result was a good home run,” Ohtani said.
“Although I’m not on as good a (home run) pace as I was last year, the quality of my recent at-bats has been good.”
The reigning AL MVP hit 46 homers last season, surpassing Hideki Matsui’s 2004 record of 31 in a single MLB season by a Japanese.
Matsui, who spent seven of his 10 MLB seasons with the Yankees, holds the record for most home runs by a Japanese in MLB at 175, a figure Ohtani trails by just 52.
Ohtani also became the first MLB player to win 10 games as a pitcher and belt 30 home runs in the same season.
“I’m simply happy (about that),” he said. “So far, I’ve been able to keep getting solid results. I want to keep making the adjustments I’ll need to stay healthy and be able to play right until the end.”
Yankees catcher Kyle Higashioka went 0 for 4 in the second game of the series in Anaheim.
Elsewhere, Seiya Suzuki went 1-for-4 and scored a run as his Chicago Cubs beat the Toronto Blue Jays 7-5 at Rogers Centre.
Suzuki’s first-inning double gave him eight hits in his last five games with at least one in each, taking his average to .258.
“Although I’m getting hits, it feels like my swing is still not where it should be,” Suzuki said. “We’re already in the tail end of the season, so there’s nothing for me to do but just buckle down and do everything I can.”
• • •
Lars Nootbaar slugged his 10th home run of the season in the 13th inning against the Reds on Wednesday, and the St. Louis Cardinals went on to a 5-3 road win.
Nootbaar finished the night with a pair of RBIs as well as a stolen base.