Shohei Ohtani outduels Red Sox closer Matt Barnes
The Red Sox were on their way to another win and a series sweep of the Los Angeles Angels until a massive speedbump named Shohei Ohtani stepped into the batter’s box. Things were exactly how Boston wanted them. They had the lead going into the ninth inning with one of the most dominant relievers in the game today on the hill. For as good as Matt Barnes has been in 2021, and believe me he’s been stellar, he just wasn’t a match for the Japanese superstar.
This is a game that the Red Sox should’ve won, let me start out by saying that. Despite the Angels jumping on Nathan Eovaldi for four runs early, the team was able to score in the third and tack on another four runs via homers from Kevin Plawecki and Rafael Devers. Boston’s bullpen also held up its end of the bargain until the eighth where Adam Ottavino began to sputter, leading the way for an early Barnes entrance.
Matty Backpacks got out of the inning quickly and also flew to two outs in the ninth until the oddly silent Mike Trout blooped a single into no-man’s land. With one on and two out the big battle was about to begin. A fastball targeted for the top of the strike zone stayed just a bit too much in the sweet spot and Ohtani sent it to the moon. The Angels were back on top and the Red Sox weren’t able to mount the walk-off comeback.
Barnes has been lights-out this season and is the only Boston reliever I would want in that situation, it was simply a missed pitch that he had to pay for. The closer took full responsibility for missing the pitch but heaped nothing but praise for Ohtani and had some big things to say about the two-way dynamo in his postgame interview.
"“I personally think he’s the most physically gifted baseball player that we’ve ever seen,” Barnes said about Ohtani. “I don’t know if you’re ever going to see somebody that can throw 101 (mph) and hit the ball 600 feet. So I mean he’s a special player. He’s incredibly talented and hopefully, he stays healthy and has a long career.”"
Everyone talks about Trout being the big bat that you have to worry about but for me, it’s Ohtani. The guy can swing a bat with what looks like zero effort and launch it 400ft. Hell, he did it earlier in this series! Ohtani is next level and possibly from another planet.
Like Barnes said, for a guy to be able to regularly and comfortably hit triple digits on the radar gun and launch balls into orbit is wild. Babe Ruth couldn’t even carry Shohei’s bags. But this is the matchup I really wanted to see out of this series. Our best pitcher versus one of, if not, their best hitters. Round one goes to Ohtani.
Let’s get back to Matty B, though. As I’ve said previously, I was not a big fan of Barnes getting the ball in the ninth going into the season based on his previous years of service. But this Matt Barnes is different.
Yeah, being in a contract year sure changes things and probably makes him want to perform better, but he’s also a guy who expressed a desire in staying in Boston. I think two things are playing big factors in his renaissance. The first is that he actually has a defined role on the team for the first time in his tenure, and the other is he’s not playing any games.
I’ll get to the latter first and the former in a bit. When I say he’s not playing games some of you may tilt your heads a bit but hear me out. In the past, he’s been known as a guy who could throw 100mph with ease but would rely on getting cute with his curveball.
That’s not the case in 2021. Per Alex Speier of the Boston Globe, Barnes has been a career 57% first-pitch strike pitcher, in 2021, it’s 75%. Simply put, he’s not trying to dance around with his pitches, he’s going after guys and he’s not giving them a second to think about what’s coming next.
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"“It’s a funny game sometimes. I’m not going to change the way I’m approaching guys. I’m not going to change the way I’m attacking guys, the way that I’m pitching guys just because I gave up a couple runs today,” Barnes said. “That’s not going to happen. So I’m going to go back out there, do what I’ve been doing for the first seven weeks of the season. It seemed to work out pretty good. So I don’t plan on changing a thing.”"
Barnes made it clear that just because he made a bad pitch and lost the game he wasn’t going to change his approach and that the right thing to do. As a closer you’re not always going to shut down the opposition, you’re gonna get hit and you’re gonna have bad nights. You need to put that aside right away and turn your sights to the next night, and that’s exactly what I believe he’ll do. The Barnes from past years may have settled on the blown save but he’s fully embraced his job as the closer and wants the ball right back.
For the Red Sox, they turn their sights to the Toronto Blue Jays for a three-game set in Dunedin, Florida. As of this writing, the Jays are in second place in the AL East and sit just 1.5 games behind Boston. This series could be make or break for the Sox as a sweep gives them breathing room while a series loss will or series sweep in the wrong direction can be a crusher. I don’t want to hear anything from the “It’s only May crowd,” you’re wrong and that opinion is dumb. If Boston wants to keep on this winning path they’ll need Matt Barnes to forget this loss, and remember he’s a machine from the future sent here to mow down opposing hitters.