ANAHEIM, Calif. — Shohei Ohtani was only facing his second hitter, and Phil Nevin on his third night as interim manager of the Los Angeles Angels sensed something special might be afoot. He turned to his pitching coach Matt Wise and relayed his intuition.
“He has that look, doesn’t he?” Said Newin.
The Angels struggled, fidgeted, and Ohtani – the anchor of a team suffering from the loss of Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon and Taylor Ward – delivered for them. His seven one-run innings and well-timed home run propelled the Angels to a 5-2 win over a red-hot Boston Red Sox team Thursday night, ending their franchise-record 14-game losing streak.
It was the kind of performance the angels desperately needed.
It was the kind of performance that only Ohtani could deliver.
“Shohei was incredible,” said Trout. “As always.”
The Angels’ losing streak was the longest ever for a team with a reigning MVP on its roster, surpassing the 13 straight streak from the 1985 Chicago Cubs by Ryne Sandberg and the 11 by the 1995 Houston Astros by Jeff Bagwell. But Ohtani, who unanimously won the American League’s Most Valuable Player award last season, made sure it didn’t go any further. According to research by the Elias Sports Bureau, he became the fifth player since 1900 and the first since 1969 to hit a home run and earn a win that started a losing streak of at least 10 games.
“Obviously I really wanted to win this game,” Ohtani said through his interpreter. “Especially on the days that I’m pitching – I just wanted to put the team in a position to have a chance of winning and I felt like I could do that today.”
Ohtani allowed nine runs in nine innings over his previous two starts and limited the Red Sox — who won seven straight wins — 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 in terms of pitches (100) and fastball speed (101 mph), and he seemed to be coming alive offensively, too.
Ohtani shortened just .192/.333/.383 during the Angels’ 14-game losing streak, but he put them to a 2-1 lead in the fifth with a two-run homer from opposite field and added a line-drive single the seventh. Andrew Velazquez, a light-hitting midfielder who experienced a 0-for-22 slump, opened the game with a triple homer in the sixth, sending the Angels to their first win since May 24, when the team went 10 games over .500 .
The Angels’ post-game home celebrations were particularly boisterous this season, complete with strobe lights, fire pits and giveaways. The prolonged absence of one took Thursday 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 over .500 when that losing streak began, according to Elias. Only three teams have ever made it into 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 which have had more than 11 consecutive losses.
The Angels, who abruptly fired Joe Maddon as their manager on Tuesday, are currently three games under .500 and 2½ games behind sixth and final playoff spot in the American League, but they believe they can once again resemble the team that did dominated the first six weeks.
“We know what we’re capable of,” Velazquez said. “We have the same guys in here.”
The Angels outplayed their opponents by 53 runs in their first 44 games, but were outplayed in the next 14 games by 45 points overall.
Trout navigated a career-worst 26-game hitless stretch and then pinched his groin Tuesday night. Rendon (wrist) and Ward (thigh) ended up on the injured list, depriving 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 get deep into the games and an offensive outnumbered consistently couldn’t get any runs.
The Angels lost three straight one-run games to the Toronto Blue Jays, then were outplayed 17-3 by the Yankees. The Philadelphia Phillies defeated them in a three-game series to capture the finals thanks to Bryce Harper’s eighth-inning grand slam. Then the Red Sox won three straight one-run games, two of which eliminated the Angels.
It gave Nevin his first win as a major league manager – and it ultimately earned him the ball.
“Shohei gave it to me,” Nevin said. “That was neat.”