Yes, the Yankees are playing some uninspired baseball and no, it’s not particularly enjoyable watching them do so. But for a few moments, I’d like to forget about losing streaks and division races and club lines. Today, I’d like to share my appreciation of the privilege of getting to watch the two best players in MLB ply their craft.
These last three games have provided a spectacle the likes of which we may not see in quite awhile — the two frontrunners in the AL MVP race almost singlehandedly willing their respective teams to victory in a head-to-head showdown. On one side, you have the most dominant offensive force in a single season since Barry Bonds in Aaron Judge. On the other, you have a literal unicorn who every day redefines what’s possible on a baseball field in Shohei Ohtani.
Judge, assembling the most impressive performance in a walk year perhaps of all-time, chasing down the 61-year-old AL home run record set by a legend from the past of his own team. Ohtani, a top-10 hitter and pitcher in the league on pace to become the first player since Jim Devlin of the 1876 Louisville Grays to lead his team in both plate appearances and innings pitched. Both delivered the goods in a manner befitting an MVP.
As teams began to realize that Judge is the only consistent threat in the Yankees lineup, they’ve given him less and less to hit. In other words, he is being given the Bonds treatment. It’s hard to impose one’s will on a game when the opponent is treating you like this:
The last 15 times Aaron Judge has come up with a runner (or two) in scoring position and first base open:— Codify (@CodifyBaseball) August 30, 2022
Hit By Pitch
Hit By Pitch
Intentional Walk https://t.co/V8kXtBSv4O
One of the things that distinguishes an MVP-caliber player from the rest of the pack is the ability to seize the opportunity when it presents itself, however infrequent that may be. You may only get one pitch to hit all game, but when it comes, you better make the most of it.
Well, that’s what Judge did in this series against the Angels. The only pitch in series opener remotely close to the hitting zone was sent into the seats for an absurd 50 home runs before September, but also to reduce the deficit to just a run. He finished the night with the home run and two intentional walks — about as Bondsian a batting line as you could ask for.
The next night featured an even more heroic act from the literal larger than life figure. Again, he got nothing to hit all game, and yet somehow still collected a pair of singles on a pair of pitcher’s pitches. Even when no decent opportunity arose, he grabbed the game by the horns and forced a result out.
Against Mike Mayers’ best fastball of the night, Judge blasted a three-run shot to the opposite field that would prove decisive by the time the final out was converted. It wasn’t even a mistake pitch, and yet Judge punished Mayers to the fullest for coming even near the zone with a heater and runners on.
For the near-supernatural ability shown by Judge in the series, Ohtani matched him stride-for-stride, and maybe even surpassed him. His two-run home run in the fifth inning of the series opener gave the Angels a lead that they would not surrender, and against this pitch no less:
Frankie Montas has had a tough time in pinstripes, but Ohtani is one of if not the only hitter in baseball who can put that kind of swing on a pitch and still drive it 400 feet out of the yard. Oh, not to mention it gave us probably the coolest photo we’ll see all season.
Two forlorn angels embrace the fiery damnation of Hades for just one earthly win pic.twitter.com/vnlN9nhjpm— oscar hotel romeo (@OldHossRadbourn) August 30, 2022
As if that wasn’t enough, Ohtani flashed his speed while legging out an infield single in the eighth on what should’ve been a routine groundout. You know, to remind everyone that on top of being one of the best pitchers and best hitters in baseball, he’s also one of the fastest dudes in the league. I’m not even sure Lucas Luetge did all that much wrong on the play; Ohtani is just that fast.
The real MVP moment came in the series finale. I talked about MVPs taking over games and punishing the one mistake made against them. That’s precisely what Ohtani did against Gerrit Cole, who had been pitching a shutout until that fateful sixth inning. The mistakes came in the form of a pair of errors by Josh Donaldson and Isiah Kiner-Falefa, allowing Ohtani to come to the plate with a pair on down two.
Cole had pitched Ohtani well all game, but at the third time of asking made his lone mistake on a center-cut fastball, and boy Ohtani did not miss. He sent it 427 feet to center to account for all three Angels’ runs — all of which they would need in the series-clinching 3-2 victory.
It’s not often you get to see the two clear MVP frontrunners go head-to-head in a series. It’s even more rare that they take over the games in a fashion like Judge and Ohtani did, lending greater credence to the concept of MVP. For a three-game stretch, we got to see the two best players in the sport at the peak of their powers, and it’s a memory I won’t soon forget.