Column

Spitballing: Southern California — the baseball capital of the world

From the Dodgers and Padres to a pair of phenoms in Anaheim, we’re spoiled.

“Spitballing” is a column by Nathan Ackerman about Major League Baseball.

The lights shone bright as ever this past weekend in Los Angeles, as the biggest stars in the world of entertainment gathered in the City of Angels to bask in the glory of their spectacle while audiences from around the country looked on, perched on the edge of their living room seats, alcohol in hand, glued to the TV, anxiously awaiting the victors.

I’m talking, of course, about 2021′s second episode of Dodgers-Padres, a four-game classic at Dodger Stadium that built upon last weekend’s thrill — perhaps exceeding it — and momentarily stopped the hearts of baseball fans everywhere, even the ones with little at stake.

Who the hell is Oscar, anyway?

Forgive me if I’m sounding redundant. I, foolishly — and directly against my initial impulse to save it for today — dedicated 993 words of my already limited vocabulary last week to fanboying over the amazement of the regular season’s first Dodgers-Padres series, knowing damn well that the NL West rivals would outdo themselves this weekend and give me entirely new material. Patience is a virtue, and it’s one that I lacked, and I need to be better.

In that vein, I’ll expand the scope this go-around. That’s partially because you don’t need a reminder of what happened over the weekend between the best two teams in baseball (hint: four nail-biting ballgames, three Padres victories and a whole lot of Fernando Tatís Jr.).

It’s also because those two heavyweights are only two-thirds of the equation whose sum is the undeniable conclusion that Southern California is baseball’s current capital. Sure, they have the rivalry, they have Tatís, Betts, Machado, Bellinger, Darvish, Kershaw, Musgrove, Bauer — I could go on.

But just down the I-5 — or some combination of the 110 and the 405, depending on the traffic at the hour — are quite possibly the best player the game has ever seen and perhaps the best two-way player since Babe Ruth.

Those two, of course, are Mike Trout — the game’s best player — and Shohei Ohtani, whose 101-mph fastball on the mound and 450-foot power with the stick give him a case as the most talented all-around player in the sport.

On the topic of fanboying, let me fawn over the latter for a few words. On Monday, Ohtani added onto MLB’s history books by becoming the first player since 1921 to start a game on the mound on a day he entered as a Major League leader in home runs.

The last player to accomplish that feat, a full century ago? You guessed it: “The Sultan of Swat! The King of Crash! The Colossus of Clout! (The Colossus of Clout!) Babe Ruth, THE GREAT BAMBINO!” (Sorry, the Sandlot reference was too tempting to pass up.)

Yeah, you can be a Negative Nancy and point to Ohtani’s not-amazing line of four earned runs over five innings in an effort to downplay his historic night, but you shouldn’t do that because no one would like you and you’d have no friends. Besides, after conceding a four-run first inning, Ohtani retired the next 11 consecutive hitters (striking out the side in the fourth), eventually punching out slugger Joey Gallo for the second time to cap off his evening.

Also, Ohtani went 2-for-3 with a double, a walk, two RBIs and three runs, so you could argue his “net runs accounted for” was positive — despite being a PITCHER.

The Angels have finally set Ohtani loose this year, regularly penciling him into the lineup in the games he starts on the mound, and it’s a sight to behold. Through their first 21 games — during which they’ve gone a rather modest 11-10 because they’re the freaking Angels — Ohtani is batting exactly .300 with an OPS over 1.000, and his ERA is a cool 3.29.

That’s awesome.

And that other guy, the fish? He only leads all of baseball in on-base percentage, slugging percentage and (naturally) OPS — that one by more than 100 points, mind you — and is tied for third in home runs with six. And obsolete as the stat may be, he’s second in MLB in batting average, hitting at an insane .426 clip — behind only the Yermínator, young White Sox phenom Yermín Mercedes.

For what it’s worth, Trout went 4-for-5 with a double and two RBIs on Monday. Light work, basically.

Once again, this is all on top of the ever-growing fiasco between the Dodgers and Padres, a fire onto which Tatís poured lighter fluid by seemingly peeking at catcher Will Smith’s signs before taking Bauer deep twice and closing one eye while circling the bases in a successful effort to clown the L.A. starter.

After the game — one the Dodgers won, despite the two Tatís bombs — he tweeted this.

Awesome.

Tatís’ two big flies off Bauer actually came the day after he started his weekend home run barrage by cranking two home runs on Friday — April 23.

Hop in the time machine real quick. In 1999, his father, Fernando Tatís Sr., made MLB history by blasting two grand slams in one inning. That happened on — wait for it — April 23. And it took place in the same exact ballpark, Dodger Stadium. The year Fernando Jr. was born.

You couldn’t write a better script.

The younger Tatís, intent on outdoing his father, blasted the two additional home runs on Saturday for his second straight multi-homer game and added another shot on Sunday for good measure. He totaled five homers on the weekend, becoming the first shortstop ever to homer in three straight at Dodger Stadium. (Which game, you might ask, did I attend? You guessed it: Thursday’s, the only one in which Tatís didn’t homer.)

I haven’t even gotten into the drama of the games themselves: Thursday’s 3-2 thriller that San Diego won with the help of a web-gem bases-loaded double play in the eighth. Friday’s 6-1 victory in which the Padres pulled away with three in the ninth. Saturday’s 5-4 Dodgers triumph, which saw Kenley Jansen strand the tying run 90 feet away to end it. Sunday’s 8-7, 11th inning Friars win, which featured San Diego coming back from down 7-1 in the final three innings, each team employing a pitcher to pinch-hit in extra innings and some incredible tightroping on the part of San Diego’s bullpen.

Is that enough?

Of course it’s enough. As it pertains to the satisfaction of Southern California baseball fans, Trout alone is enough. Ohtani does the job. The Dodgers do the trick, and the Padres would suffice.

But we get all of those at the same time. Like all things, it’s impermanent, and we should enjoy it while it lasts. Because Southern California is the heart of the baseball world in a way we’ve never seen before.

Put simply, it’s awesome.

“Spitballing” runs every Tuesday.