HOUSTON (AP) — Shohei Ohtani was winless with a 5.92 ERA in six starts against the Houston Astros entering Wednesday's start.
Watching the superstar's performance from his perch in the dugout, Los Angeles Angels manager Joe Maddon could feel Ohtani was determined to change his fortunes against the Astros on Wednesday night.
“I think he just had enough of Houston giving him a hard time and he wanted to go out there tonight and do something about it, both on the mound and at the plate," Maddon said.
He certainly did that.
The two-way star pitched perfect ball into the sixth inning, tied a career-best with 12 strikeouts and also had two hits and two RBIs to lead the Angels to a 6-0 shutout.
“He was possessed tonight," Maddon said. “That was a virtuoso performance from the beginning. He had a different look about him — and the stuff equaled the look."
Ohtani (1-2) didn’t allow a baserunner until Jason Castro lined a single to center field with one out in the sixth — it was his first hit of the season, and the only one Houston got in the game. Rookie Jeremy Peña walked with two outs to elicit a visit to the mound before Ohtani retired Michael Brantley on a groundout with his final pitch.
Ohtani’s big night gave him his first win of the season after entering the game 0-2 with a 7.56 ERA in his first two starts. He struck out six in a row at one point.
Maddon said it was the best he'd ever seen the 27-year-old pitch.
Ohtani was asked if he thought it was his top performance in the majors.
“It could be," he said with a smile in Japanese through a translator.
The reigning AL MVP made history Wednesday before he even took the mound. He batted twice in a six-run first inning as the Angels sent 10 to the plate — that made him the first starting pitcher since at least 1900 to bat twice in the first before throwing a pitch, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Ohtani threw 81 pitches on a night Maddon said he would be limited to 85. But, Maddon said after the game that he would not have pulled him with a perfect game intact regardless of pitch count.
“There’s no number," Maddon said. “He was going to pitch a perfect game. I’m not going to get in the way of a player’s greatness - ever."
Ohtani was asked if he was thinking about the perfect game.
“I was aware of it, but I knew the pitch count was getting up there, so I was thinking I probably wouldn’t be able to finish it off," he said.
Houston manager Dusty Baker thinks the huge early lead helped Ohtani.
“What it did more than anything is it relaxed Ohtani," Baker said. “Hank Aaron used to tell us the most dangerous pitcher to face is a very relaxed pitcher and he seemed very relaxed. He didn’t make any mistakes."
The Angels immediately jumped on Jake Odorizzi (0-2). Ohtani drew a leadoff walk and the first five batters reached, putting Los Angeles up 2-0 before Odorizzi recorded an out.
There were two outs in the inning when Odorizzi's fourth walk, to Tyler Wade with the bases loaded, ended his night.
Blake Taylor took over and Andrew Velazquez reached on an error by first baseman Yuli Gurriel that allowed another run to score. Ohtani then hit a two-run double to left field to make it 6-0.
Angels reliever Ryan Tepera struck out two in two perfect innings and Raisel Iglesias had a strikeout in the ninth to complete the one-hitter.
Los Angeles took the series after beating Houston 7-2 Tuesday night following an 8-3 loss in the opener.
Ohtani struck out the first two batters before retiring Alex Bregman on a flyball to end the first. He struck out Yordan Alvarez in the second before Kyle Tucker and Gurriel flied out.
The Japanese star then struck out six in a row before Alvarez flied out to start Houston’s fifth. Tucker and Gurriel fanned to end the inning.
Ohtani matched his career high for strikeouts set on April 8, 2018, getting his 12th when Niko Goodrum struck out on a foul tip to start the sixth before Castro's hit. The veteran catcher had been 0 for 9 to begin the season.
Brandon Marsh added two hits and drove in a run as the Angels played a third straight game minus star Mike Trout, who was out with a bruised left hand after being plunked Sunday.
Houston struck out a season-high 15 times as the team was blanked by the Angels for the second time in this young season.
Angels: Trout said after the game that he would return to the lineup Friday with no restrictions.
Astros: 2B Jose Altuve was placed on the 10-day injured list Wednesday, retroactive to Tuesday, with a strained left hamstring. Baker said he didn’t think the injury was too serious, but that Altuve would probably need more than a week to recover. ... Houston selected the contract of infielder J.J. Matijevic from Sugar Land of the Pacific Coast League and transferred infielder Taylor Jones to the 60-day injured list to make room for Matijevic on the 40-man roster.
Both teams have a day off Thursday before Houston opens a series with Toronto at home Friday and the Angels return home to host the Orioles.
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