As Clayton Kershaw scaled the hill on Tuesday, Shohei Ohtani didn’t miss the magnitude of the moment.
“He’s a pitcher I’ve watched since my college days,” Ohtani said in Japanese.
The 15 seasons in the big leagues. The first All-Star Game starts. The game will be played at Dodger Stadium.
So when Ohtani stepped into the batter’s box to open the All-Star Game, he touched the rim of his helmet.
“To let him know that I respect him,” Ohtani said.
Moments later, Ohtani did something else to show his appreciation for the story he would be a part of: he hit as hard as he could.
With Ohtani confining himself to batting, the All-Star Game was deprived of a pitching match between Kershaw and Ohtani. What could have been a memorable inning was replaced by a memorable one-pitch-at-bat thanks to Ohtani’s mindset and Kershaw’s willingness to challenge him.
When Derek Jeter played his final All-Star Game in 2014, Adam Wainwright threw him a down-the-middle fastball, which he lined for a double. That wouldn’t happen in Japan, where such obvious acts of deference are generally reserved for retirement games.
“Being able to face him like that in an All-Star game at Dodger Stadium doesn’t happen often,” Ohtani said the day before the game. “I’d love to swing with everything I’ve got.”
Ohtani said his goal is a homer.
He came from a culture where athletes recognize special moments by trying their best, also to make sure they have no regrets.
In an on-field interview with Fox’s Tom Verducci ahead of the game, Ohtani reiterated his promise.
When asked what he was most looking forward to, Ohtani replied in English: “First throw, first swing. That’s it.”
Kershaw played his part, his first throw a waist-deep 91-mile fastball away.
“I mean, you can’t throw the first pitch of an All-Star game as a breaking ball,” Kershaw said. “You had to give him a heater somehow, I guess just for everything. Had to do it.”
Ohtani kept his promise and struck.
“I would swing even if it was a ball,” he said.
Flare one at a time to the center.
“If possible, I wanted to hit it square or swing and miss,” Ohtani said. “I got the best interim result, so that wasn’t very good.”
Kershaw counted the result as a win, especially after beating Ohtani at first base.
“He didn’t hit it over the fence, so that was a win,” Kershaw said.
Ohtani figuratively tipped his cap at Kershaw and said: “I said I would swing, so I imagine it would be awkward to throw there. I was impressed that he could throw it in a good spot.”
Informed of Ohtani’s openly stated ambition to homer, Kershaw replied, “He wants to hit a home run every time. He swings a lot on the first pitch. All he has to do is touch it and it will go a long way. At least he broke his bat.”
Speaking of his pickoff from Ohtani, he said, “I was just kind of praising it over there. I didn’t know what pitch to throw yet, so I gave myself a second and I got it.”
Ohtani broke into a smile and rushed back to the American League bench, helmet in hand.
“I figured I’d run if I had the chance,” he said.
Kershaw left the game after pitching a scoreless first inning. Ohtani faced the San Diego Padres’ Joe Musgrove in his second plate appearance in the third inning.
Ohtani’s first-inning single was his first hit against Kershaw, against whom he went 0-8 with three strikeouts. They last met on Friday night when Ohtani held Kershaw 0-3 with two strikeouts in a 9-1 away win for the Dodgers over the Angels.
Ohtani was particularly praiseful of Kershaw on the eve of the All-Star Game and recalled admiring him from afar. Ohtani was in middle school when Kershaw was promoted to the major leagues. By the time Ohtani considered signing with the Dodgers as a high school senior, Kershaw had already won the first of his three Cy Young Awards.
When asked what particularly impressed him about Kershaw, Ohtani said, “No. 1 is timing and command. He can replicate his pitches. He can keep pitching pitch after pitch with his high-quality pitches. He doesn’t make many mistakes.
“I think the degree to which it’s a finished product as a jug has gone through the roof.”
Tuesday’s meeting between Ohtani and Kershaw consisted of a single pitch and a pickoff throw that delivered three pitches into the next at-bat. The confrontation was brief. But for Ohtani, it’s timeless.
https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2022-07-19/shohei-ohtani-clayton-kershaw-mlb-all-star-duel Shohei Ohtani, Clayton Kershaw don’t hold back in All-Star duel