An epic showdown with Mike Trout brought out the very best in Shohei Ohtani.
When Ohtani struck out Trout to end the WBC championship game, he threw the best breaking ball of his major league career.
Japan led USA 3-2 with two outs in the ninth inning when, on a full count, Ohtani threw Trout his sweeper—his favorite pitch, essentially a slider with a bigger break. Ohtani threw his sweeper last season 37% of the time, more than any other pitch, at an average speed of 86.5 mph and with an average spin rate of 2,492 rpm. The sweeper that Trout whiffed on was clocked at 87.2 mph with a spin rate of 2,708 rpm.
Of the 1,659 sweepers Ohtani has thrown in the major leagues, he threw only five that fast and with that much spin. The one to Trout had more vertical break (32 inches) and more horizontal break (17 inches) than his previous five best sweepers.
The combined 49 inches of vertical and horizontal break easily eclipsed the best total movement on his other five elite sweepers, 44 inches on a called third strike to Jose Altuve last Sept. 20.
The sweeper for the Trout strikeout immediately followed the most electric fastball Ohtani has ever thrown as a major leaguer: a four-seamer clocked at 101.6 mph with a spin rate of 2,581 rpm. Ohtani has thrown 5,589 four-seamers in the majors, but none of them with so much speed and spin.
Ohtani has thrown only one pitch faster since joining the majors, a fastball for a strikeout of Italy’s Vinnie Pasquantino in the WBC quarterfinal game that was clocked at 102 mph; although the spin rate on that heater was 2,337 rpm, below his average last season of 2,449.
With his 10 fastballs against Team USA, Ohtani posted a higher average fastball velocity (99.6) and average spin rate (2,529) than in any of his 63 major league games.
Ohtani called the WBC victory “the best moment of my life.” He secured it with the best stuff of his life. Here is a pitch-by-pitch breakdown of the epic battle: