You can let your imagination run wild every which way when it comes to Shohei Ohtani and his alternate life as a Yankee.
Did you see him go deep twice more Tuesday night against Jameson Taillon at Yankee Stadium, giving him three homers in two games here, only for the Yankees to prevail, 11-5, ending their losing streak at four? Man, does he make it look easy, flicking balls over the Yankees’ inviting right-field wall. Would he make a run at Roger Maris’ American League and franchise record of 61 in pinstripes?
Then again, Ohtani’s path to his current status as AL Most Valuable Player favorite has not been linear, not unlike how many of the Yankees’ youngsters have swayed to and fro in their development. How would this demanding fan base have stomached Ohtani’s brutal 2020 (.190/.291/.366 slash line and 37.80 ERA), and how would Ohtani have stomached the resulting agita?
If nothing else, an Ohtani-Yankees union, even if it never attained this sort of peak in pinstripes, would’ve kept Giancarlo Stanton’s contract out of The Bronx, reason enough for the Steinbrenners to regard this swing and miss with great regret.
Ohtani now leads the major leagues with 28 homers, and in his penultimate at-bat Tuesday, he sent Brett Gardner to the center-field warning track, at 388 feet considerably deeper than his first homer (356), for a long seventh-inning fly out; he grounded out to first to end the game, Luke Voit barely beating the speedster to the bag. He is a marvel offensively, a bundle of athleticism and excitement, and oh by the way, he’ll start on the mound — and hit — for the Angels on Wednesday night.
“To see what he’s doing this year, especially the last two nights, is pretty impressive,” said Aaron Judge, who knocked a two-run homer for the Yankees. “It feels like any pitch that’s over the plate, it’s going to get hit and it’s going to get hit hard. … He’s a generational talent, that’s for sure. We’re excited to see him on the mound [Wednesday].”
“He is what baseball needs, both as a player and as an example,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s all about the moment. He’s prepared, he’s ingratiating. … I enjoy watching him enjoy playing baseball.”
He also, through no fault of his own, is a key figure in Yankees history.
Remember the positive vibes percolating through Yankees Universe following the 2017 season? Sure, they had fallen short to the Astros, lasting seven games in the AL Championship Series, but their future shined so bright, so many young, talented players driving the club’s return to the playoffs. And with word that Ohtani would leave his native Japan to put himself up for bidding, the Yankees loomed as the perceived favorite due to their immense popularity in the Far East.
However, shortly after the Yankees sent their recruitment materials to Ohtani’s agency, they received word that they didn’t so much as make the first cut, a huge disappointment. Did that disappointment fuel them toward pursuing another star in Stanton, albeit one costing more than 10 times as much as Ohtani?
Think of how DJ LeMahieu’s hitting approach, heavy on contact, balanced the Yankees’ offense when he arrived on the scene in 2019. Now envision Ohtani — lefty, fast and a pitcher to boot — and the sort of balance he’d provide, all the more so with the Yankees able to diversify their commitment to Stanton.
“It seems like he’s gone to another level,” Aaron Boone said of Ohtani. “There’s a little bit of fear when he walks up there.”
Instead, the Yankees (41-38) find themselves adrift, occupying fourth place in the AL East, their general manager saying Tuesday afternoon, “We suck right now,” the entire Baby Bombers era teetering before they so much as reached a World Series.
Maybe that still would be the case given Ohtani’s circuitous journey to greatness and New York’s hard edge. Definitely, though, the Yankees’ future now would be brighter.
Too upsetting to imagine? Forget I said anything.