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Shohei Ohtani to start on the mound and DH for the AL in All-Star Game

Los Angeles Angels designated hitter Shohei Ohtani after

Los Angeles Angels designated hitter Shohei Ohtani after hitting a home run against the Baltimore Orioles on July 4, 2021. Credit: AP/Ashley Landis

DENVER — Welcome to The Sho.

This year, Major League Baseball isn’t staging an All-Star Game. What’s happening at Coors Field is a two-day celebration of the sport’s astounding two-way dynamo, Shohei Ohtani.

And everyone can suspend the comparisons to Babe Ruth for this week. The Sultan of Swat never did what Ohtani is doing — starting the All-Star Game on the mound and hitting leadoff as the DH after competing in the Home Run Derby, which he did Monday night.

To be fair, none of these events existed a century ago during the Babe’s time. But for Ohtani to even accept such a challenge only adds to his growing legend, and it’s so beyond the realm of conventional thinking that MLB actually had to change the All-Star Game’s rules for him to both pitch and hit.

The National League squad named a DH (the Dodgers’ Max Muncy) and a starting pitcher (the Nationals’ Max Scherzer). Ohtani is being allowed to fill the roles of two players — hitting even after he’s removed as a pitcher — which normally isn’t done.

Then again, there is nothing normal about Ohtani, who entered the All-Star break leading the majors with 33 home runs to go with a 3.49 ERA and 11.7 K/9 rate in 13 starts (4-1).

"This is what the fans want to see — it’s personally what I want to see," said the Rays’ Kevin Cash, the AL manager. "And to have the opportunity to do something with a generational talent, it’s pretty special. I begged Major League Baseball to tweak the rule for [TUESDAY’S]game because if they didn’t, I know I’d screw it up the rest of the way, pulling pinch hitters and DHs."

That’s the Ohtani Effect. He’s changing the rules, and people’s perceptions along with it, every day — inside the sport, too.

"It would be awesome for me if could get a hit. I’m 0-for-the first half this year," Scherzer said. "Just the fact that he can pitch — the demands on your body to be a pitcher are intense, to say the least . . . So to be able to shoulder those workloads and also be able to hit as well, that’s just absolutely incredible.

"It takes an unbelievable athlete to be to able to accomplish that, and that’s what he is. That’s why I feel like you’re seeing some of these historic things come out of this first in what he was able to do. He’s must-watch baseball any time he’s on the field."

Outside the lines, too. During Monday’s news conference, Ohtani was cheered loudly by the fans surrounding the open-air plaza, and roughly 95% of the questions were directed at him. Through it all, Ohtani displayed an easy grin, responding through his interpreter with modest answers that suggested he is taking all this in stride while the baseball community goes bonkers over him.

"I’m expecting to be pretty fatigued and exhausted after these two days," Ohtani said. "But there’s a lot of people that want to watch it and I want to make those guys happy. That’s why I’m going to do it."

Even with the best data-driven algorithms available, MLB couldn’t have created a more ideal superstar. Compare Ohtani’s perspective to the number of All-Stars who bailed on this week, opting out for either health or personal reasons. But it’s not only fans who are interested in watching Ohtani. Fellow All-Stars marvel at him, too.

"It’s crazy," the Yankees’ Aaron Judge said. "I tried doing both in college. During fall baseball, I would pitch, I would hit, go back and forth, do the running and conditioning with the pitchers, throwing, then I’d come in and try to hit — I was exhausted.

"For him to do that at the major-league level, it’s tough, but he’s always got a smile on his face. Doesn’t seem like anything bothers him. He’s made for this. I want to see him do this for the next 20 years."

And if that sounds extreme, Ohtani, 27, already has shown it would be a mistake to doubt his otherworldly abilities.

"He’s an unbelievable talent," the Mets’ Pete Alonso said. "I’m actually happy because baseball now, I feel like it’s too analytical. People always say, no, he can’t do that — until the guy goes out and does it. Oh, he can’t do this, because we haven’t seen this in so many years. Well, he’s going out and proving the world wrong. He’s balling out and it’s super-special. To be able to break a mold, for Shohei, it’s amazing."

For all of baseball, really. And this week, Ohtani is dominating the spotlight to a degree that no one has ever seen, a level of celebrity that the Babe himself would envy.

"He’s a legendary figure," Ohtani said. "It’s a huge honor to be compared to somebody like that. All I can do is try my best and see how my season and career ends up."

The world will be watching.

New York Sports