When the 2021 season began, Shohei Ohtani was at a career crossroads.
Ever since he’d hurt his arm halfway through his rookie season in 2018, Ohtani had failed to live up to his two-way player promise. After a pandemic-shortened 2020 season when Ohtani called his performance “pathetic,” there was a growing sentiment that he might never again be the two-way superstar we saw before the injury.
That seems like a lifetime ago now that Ohtani has completed three of the best seasons in baseball history, a run that is expected to land him a record-breaking free-agent contract this winter.
Ohtani’s oblique and elbow injuries ended this season a couple of weeks early, allowing for extra time to reflect on how the “Babe Ruth of Japan” arrived at this point.
A ranking of his top 10 moments in the majors so far — excluding the World Baseball Classic — has to start back at that crossroads moment, in April 2021.
1. A first inning to remember
Ohtani had barely pitched in 2019 and 2020 because of Tommy John surgery and a separate arm injury, and he had also shown dramatic signs of decline as a hitter in 2020, so there was plenty of skepticism following him when 2021 began.
In a last-ditch effort to see what he could do, the Angels stripped all the restrictions from Ohtani that season. There was cautious optimism after spring training.
On April 4, the Angels faced the Chicago White Sox in a nationally televised game. It was Ohtani’s first start of the season on the mound and the first time he’d ever hit and pitched in the same game in the majors.
In the top of the first inning, Ohtani threw three pitches at 100 mph or harder. In the bottom of the first, he hit a ball 115 mph for a homer.
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