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Two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani in spotlight at All-Star Game

DENVER — Babe Ruth became famous first as a pitcher and then a slugger, and a big piece of his legacy was how he excelled at both.

He pitched the Boston Red Sox to the 1918 World Series title before brandishing his Hall of Fame legend with the New York Yankees.

Baseball hasn’t seen a player since who can do both well until Los Angeles Angels phenom Shohei Ohtani came along. Now the superstar from Japan is going to do something even The Babe didn’t — start an All-Star Game as a pitcher and then switch to hitting when his mound moment is done.

“I wasn’t expecting to be chosen as a pitcher at all, but to be named the starter is a huge honor,” the right-handed throwing, left-handed hitting Ohtani said through translator Ippei Mizuhara at All-Star Game media day on Monday.

Washington Nationals righty Max Scherzer will start for the National League. It is his fourth time starting the All-Star Game, and he is just the sixth pitcher to have the honor — with the other five members of the Hall of Fame (Don Drysdale, Lefty Gomez, Robin Roberts, Jim Palmer and Randy Johnson).

Local baseball fans were hoping Colorado Rockies starter German Marquez would get the nod but National League manager Dave Roberts opted for Scherzer.

“For the Rockies fans here, it would have been a nice gesture and a nice honor,” Roberts said. “For me ultimately deciding on Max, what he’s done this year, as far as performance, what he’s done for the game of baseball, his track record, it was a no-brainer.”

Roberts’ batting order for the NL is: Fernando Tatis Jr., SS, Padres; Max Muncy, DH, Dodgers; Nolan Arenado, 3B, Cardinals; Freddie Freeman, 1B, Braves; Nick Castellanos, RF, Reds; Jesse Winker, LF, Reds; J.T. Realmuto, C, Phillies; Bryan Reynolds, CF, Pirates; Adam Frazier, 2B, Pirates.

Ohtani was voted in as the American League DH and then his peers voted him in as a pitcher. Major League Baseball changed the rules to allow Ohtani to be recognized, essentially, as two players — a pitcher and hitter.

AL manager Kevin Cash named him the starting pitcher so that Ohtani can begin the game as a pitcher and a hitter, instead of bringing him in from the bullpen after his plate appearances. He’ll bat leadoff for the AL.

“I begged major league baseball to tweak the rule for the game because if they didn’t, I knew I’d screw it up,” Cash said. “For this game we’ll be able use Shohei as two players. When he’s done pitching, he can remain in the game.”

The rest of the AL starting lineup is: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 1B, Blue Jays; Xander Bogaerts, SS, Red Sox; Aaron Judge, RF, Yankees; Rafael Devers, 3B, Red Sox; Marcus Semien, 2B, Blue Jays; Salvador Perez, C, Royals; Teoscar Hernandez, LF, Blue Jays; Cedric Mullins, CF, Orioles.

Ohtani is batting .279 with a major league-leading 33 home runs. The home runs are a single-season record for a Japanese-born player and an Angels record before the All-Star break. He is 4-1 with a 3.49 ERA in 13 starts on the mound this season.

He will be the second Japanese-born player to serve as a starting pitcher in an All-Star Game. Hideo Nomo, who has the only no-hitter in Coors Field history, started for the NL as a Los Angeles Dodger in 1995.

This is the first of Ohtani’s four seasons with the Angels in which he has been hitting and pitching regularly. He started 10 games in 2018 and just two last year. He didn’t pitch in 2019.

Ohtani entered this year having hit 47 homers over his first three seasons.

Health has been a big factor in his ability to excel at both in 2021.

“I wasn’t able to do what I really wanted to do (in previous seasons),” he said. “This season I’ve been healthy and so far, it’s been a really great season.”

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–Field Level Media