DENVER – He wasn’t voted the MVP, that honor went to Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
He didn’t produce a hit, or even get the ball out of the infield in two plate appearances.
He pitched a 1-2-3 inning, but didn’t strike anyone out.
It made no difference.
The night, with the American League winning the All-Star Game, 5-2, for the eighth consecutive year Tuesday night at Coors Field, still belonged to Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels.
Ohtani, the winning pitcher with his one inning of work, was easily the biggest and greatest star, no matter what the box score may read in the annals of All-Star Game history.
He received the loudest ovations by the sellout crowd of 49,184.
He got the most accolades and tributes from his teammates.
And no one came close to signing more autographs.
There may have been All-Stars all over the field, but only one was the center of attention. The players came to Ohtani’s locker in waves wanting him to sign jerseys. Baseballs. Pictures. Bats. You name the item, Ohtani was signing it.
Every All-Star player, no matter how young or experienced, will forever remember the evening they shared with Ohtani.
“I kind of felt bad for him,’’ said Chicago White Sox All-Star closer Liam Hendricks, who preserved Ohtani’s victory with his save. “Of course, I got a ball signed by him. I may feel bad, but I’m not an idiot.
“He was definitely doing more than your average person, but I think everybody’s in awe of what he’s able to do.’’
He kept smiling, kept signing, and actually thanked his fellow All-Stars for even wanting his autograph.
“What Shohei is doing is unbelievably impressive,’’ Hendriks said, “but the most important thing I’ve recognized talking to Shohei is that no matter what he does on the field, he’s a better human being. I mean he’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever spoken to in my life.
“He’s about as humble and gracious as they come. …The talent he has, and the hype surrounding him, I can’t fathom the ability he has to shrug it off. He doesn’t push people away. He’s just himself.’’
Who else would actually decline an invitation to appear in the interview room, and simply conduct interviews outside in the hallway, not wanting to take away the spotlight from anyone else?
It was almost as if he was embarrassed by all of the accolades and ovations he received.
“I was simply thankful,’’ Ohtani says, “for all the cheers and support I got.’’
He was the pitcher who drew the oohs and aahs with his back-to-back 100-mph fastballs against Nolan Arenado in that first inning, the fastest pitches he has thrown since his first start of the season.
“I was only throwing one inning,’’ shrugged Ohtani.
He was even cheered wildly for his two groundouts, one hit smack into the shift.
“I always hit it right to them in the shift,’’ Ohtani said, laughing.
Ohtani who arrived into town Sunday night feeling fresh, leaves Denver completely exhausted, but, he still couldn’t stop smiling during his 72-hour binge.
“Definitely it was a lot more tiring compared to the regular season,’’ Ohtani says, “but I had fun.’’
Let’s see, he hit six home runs over 500 feet in the Home Run Derby on Monday night, taking Juan Soto to double overtime, before going out in the first round.
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He grounded out to second baseman Adam Frazier in the first inning.
He went to the mound and retired all three batters he faced, throwing six of 14 pitches at 97-mph or faster.
He grounded out to first baseman Freddie Freeman in the third inning.
And he spent the fourth inning standing outside the American League clubhouse, surrounded by more than 100 reporters, saying how he had the absolute time of his life.
“I think so far [in my career],’’ Ohtani said, “this has been the best experience, the most memorable.’’
He was nervous, but felt immediately accepted walking into the American League All-Star clubhouse, flanked by his heroes he watched growing up in Japan, including Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr.
“Before I talked to them,’’ Ohtani said, “they were kind of intimidating. But once I talked to them, everyone was all great. I had a great time meeting everybody.’’
They were ecstatic meeting Ohtani.
“We were all asking for his autograph,’’ Minnesota Twins All-Star DH Nelson Cruz said. “I got two autograph pictures myself.’’
The Hall of Fame Baseball Museum did even better.
They received his All-Star game cleats, hand guard and foot guard.
The All-Stars spent all weekend marveling over Ohtani, unable to fathom how he’s leading the majors leagues with 33 homers and slugging percentage .698, striking out 11.69 batters per nine innings as a pitcher, and hitting the longest home runs in the Home Run Derby.
Says Yankees All-Star pitcher Gerrit Cole: “It’s just so marvelous to watch. He’s showing anything’s possible.’’
If anyone saw this coming, it was Daike Obara, who has known Ohtani since they were eight years old. They grew up together, played baseball together, and were on the same high school baseball team together at Hanamaki Higashi High School in Iwate, Japan.
Obara even has a video on his cell phone showing Ohtani hit a towering home run at the age of 11, remembering the game that Ohtani once hit four homers off him.
Now, he knows the most popular man in all of Japan, wondering how in the world he could even walk the streets in Japan this winter without being swarmed by fans.
“It’s going to be crazy,’’ Obara tells USA TODAY Sports. “There’s no one bigger in Japan. Every morning in Japan, the day starts with Shohei. Their game is ending by the time we wake up, so everyone turns on the TV and the internet to see how Shohei did. And then everyone spends the day talking about him.’’
And, oh, how they will have someone to talk about Wednesday morning knowing that Ohtani made history by becoming the first player to start a game as a pitcher and a position player.
You’ve got to be awfully special for MLB to change the rules just for him, permitting Ohtani to stay in the game as a DH even after leaving the game as a pitcher following the first inning.
“This was the biggest game in Japan since the ’64 Tokyo Olympics,’’ Obara said. “It means so much to everyone back home.’’
It just adds to the legend, Obara says, even topping that moment at their high-school dormitory when Ohtani woke up late. He rushed out, but at 6-foot-4, his head slammed into the lower door frame.
Ohtani was just fine, and kept running out.
The door frame was completely cracked.
“The crack in that door frame is still there,’’ Obara says. “‘It’s almost an historical landmark now.’’
The legend is just getting started.
“He’s creating the wave, right?’’ Yankees starter Gerrit Cole says. “He’s in front of the wake. I’m a dreamer. People looking up to Shohei, and seeing how he’s been able to do it and blow past expectations, proves that anything is possible.’’
Says Tampa Bay Rays catcher Mike Zunino, who homered in the game: “The guy can do it all. It’s crazy.’’
So, go ahead and be disappointed that Ohtani didn’t win the Home Run Derby. Feel unfulfilled that you didn’t see him hit a homer in the All-Star Game, let alone hit a ball out of the infield. Be upset that you didn’t see a single strikeout.
But everyone who was in attendance this night should also remember they saw living, breathing history, a first-time All-Star whose talent could forever change the game.
“The expectations on him are a little higher than your average person,’’ Hendriks said. “At the end of the day, I don’t think anybody fathoms the toll on his body, that not only what the Home Run Derby takes, but also pitching an inning and hitting.
“I don’t think it goes through people’s minds at how tough actually everything is. It’s something special.’’
Oh, is it ever.
“We are all,’’ AL manager Kevin Cash said, “in awe of his ability. I appreciate what he’s done for our game, and our fans. There’s a lot of stuff that we’re coming out of with the pandemic, and his talent …has been a big part of getting baseball going again.’’
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