The Red Sox’ offense was already struggling — and then they had to face Shohei Ohtani.
In his first career pitching start at Fenway Park, the two-way sensation delivered a performance that would have made Babe Ruth proud. Ohtani dazzled the crowd with seven shutout innings on the mound and two hits at the plate as he completely dominated the Red Sox, who suffered another demoralizing defeat in an 8-0 loss on Thursday afternoon.
The Red Sox lost their fifth consecutive series and dropped to 10-16 as their troubling start to the season continued with another lifeless offensive performance.
“We have to get better,” manager Alex Cora said.
Ohtani’s start was historic, as he became the first starting pitcher to bat in one of the top four sports in the order in a game at Fenway since Ruth did so in 1919.
“It’s one of my favorite ballparks,” Ohtani said through translator Ippei Mizuhara. “I was looking forward to pitching here. It left a really good impression on me.”
He left an even stronger impression.
Ohtani met and even exceeded the hype. The same player who hit 46 homers as the American League MVP a season ago, Ohtani delivered one of the best visiting pitching performances at Fenway in recent memory. He struck out 11 and generated an insane 29 swings and misses, throwing 81 strikes in 99 pitches.
He became the fourth visiting pitcher in Fenway Park history to throw seven shutout innings, strike out at least 10 batters and issue no walks.
“He’s the best player in the league,” opposing Red Sox starter Rich Hill said. “I think that’s one thing everybody can pretty much unanimously agree upon. It’s pretty special to see somebody like that come along. I think everybody should be really appreciating what we’re seeing because it’s something we haven’t seen in 100 years and we may never see it again for another 100 years.”
BOSTON MA – May 5: Rafael Devers #11 of the Boston Red Sox strikes out during the fifth inning of the MLB game against the Los Angeles Angels at Fenway Park on May 5, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Staff Photo By Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
The Red Sox lineup didn’t stand much of a chance against Ohtani’s combination of fastballs, sliders and splitters throughout a hopeless afternoon. Trevor Story struck out four times, including Ohtani’s last when he overpowered him with a 98 mph fastball to end the seventh inning, which resulted in a chorus of boos from the Fenway faithful.
The Red Sox had a couple of opportunities — Jackie Bradley Jr. led off the fifth with a double, and J.D. Martinez hit a one-out double in the sixth — but they couldn’t break through.
“It’s tough because I feel like all of his pitches were unpredictable,” Martinez said. “Some of his fastballs were two-seaming, other ones were cutting. Some sliders were backing up, others were sweeping across the whole plate. He threw me a splitter — he’d thrown me a splitter a couple of times before and it was more down. He threw me one that went this way, even crossed up (catcher Max) Stassi on it. He’s just tough, man. He’s got a lot of plus pitches and he throws everything super hard. …
“You have to tip your cap. He did a great job today.”
The game was actually scoreless going into the seventh inning — thanks to another good start from Hill — but the Angels opened the floodgates on Tanner Houck. Jared Walsh’s two-run homer wrapped around Pesky’s Pole to give the visitors a 2-0 lead in the seventh before the Angels scored five in the eighth to make it a laugher.
Houck was charged with seven earned runs as his ERA dropped to 5.14.
“They strung some hits together. I thought I made some pitches out there,” said Houck, who thought his slider was the best it’s been this season. “That’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes, unfortunately. …
“You’re out there in a 0-0 ballgame and I expect myself to go out there and throw up zeroes. Unfortunately it didn’t happen today.”
To add insult to injury, Ohtani collected two hits from the No. 3 spot, including an RBI single in the eighth. He became the first starting pitcher to record a hit at Fenway since Roger Clemens in 1996.
By the time the Red Sox came up to the plate in the bottom of the eighth for their first look against a pitcher that wasn’t Ohtani, it was 7-0.
A strike away from a series victory on Wednesday night, it all unraveled for the Red Sox. They were outscored 15-0 over the final 10 innings of the series, and now sit 8 1/2 games back of the first-place Yankees. There’s plenty of season left, but they already have a long way to climb.
“Teams can go one of two ways,” the 42-year-old Hill said. “Kind of gravitate towards each other, or start to move away, and we really need to continue to keep pulling for each other, as everybody is in the locker room. We can look at the road trip that we had, a few games here or there and it could have been a completely different road trip. But the fact is, it wasn’t, and we are where we are and we have to dig ourselves out of this.”