LOS ANGELES (AP)Shohei Ohtani and Clayton Kershaw are two-way praisers.
Six miles from Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, LA’s biggest baseball stars open the All-Star Game on Tuesday night when it returns to Dodger Stadium for the first time in 42 years.
Kershaw, the Dodgers’ three-time Cy Young Award winner, gets his first All-Star start for the National League. The Angels’ Ohtani will lead off as the American League’s designated hitter for the second straight year after opening on the mound and atop the order last year in Denver.
Ohtani, the 21st Century’s Babe Ruth, is 0 for 8 in his career as a hitter against Kershaw with four strikeouts, three groundouts and a double-play grounder. He is hitless against just two others he’s faced that many times: Wade LeBlanc (0 for 11) and Justus Sheffield (0 for 13).
”The one thing that makes him great is his ability to throw the timing off of the hitters, and his command obviously,” Ohtani said Monday through translator Ippei Mizuhara.
Sitting in the sun at Dodger Stadium’s center field pavilion, not far from a statue of Dodgers great Sandy Koufax, Ohtani marveled at the 34-year-old left-hander, six years his senior.
”He makes every pitch – he rarely misses his spots, rarely leaves the ball in the middle of the plate,” Ohtani said. ”Every pitch he makes is really quality.”
Kershaw’s face reddened when he talked about his success against Ohtani – blushing or the 85-degree sun beating down, hard to tell which.
Last Friday night in Anaheim, Kershaw took a perfect game into the eighth inning and held Ohtani hitess in three at-bats, striking him out twice.
”I don’t know how I got him out,” Kershaw said. ”I guess I’ll try to get him out again tomorrow and see what happens.”
Shane McClanahan becomes the second Tampa Bay pitcher to start an All-Star game after David Price in 2010 at Anaheim. A first-time All-Star, the 25-year-old lefty is 10-3 with a major league-leading 1.71 ERA and 147 strikeouts in 110 2/3 innings.
”Tell you the truth, I’ve never seen him pitch and we didn’t play him at all this year, but everybody that I’ve talked to told me that he is nasty,” said AL manager Dusty Baker, forgetting McClanahan faced his Astros in Game 6 of the 2020 AL Championship Series.
A nine-time All-Star, the 34-year-old Kershaw is 7-2 with a 2.14 ERA and 75 strikeouts in 71 2/3 innings. Two years ago, he helped Los Angeles win its first World Series title since 1988.
”His reputation, what he’s meant to the game of baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers, I think it’s just perfect that he start this game for us in the National League,” said NL manager Brian Snitker of Atlanta.
Ohtani, a two-time All-Star and the reigning AL MVP, is a baseball unicorn: He’s batting .258 with 19 homers, 56 RBIs and 10 stolen bases, while going 9-4 with a 2.38 ERA as a right-hander pitcher along with 123 strikeouts and 22 walks in 87 innings.
”It’s really great for the game of baseball. Having somebody like that to be able to excel at both of those the way he does is incredible,” Kershaw said. ”It’s fun to watch, too, as a fan of the game.”
Ohtani decided not to play both ways in this year’s All-Star Game.
”I’m going to pitch the first game after the All-Star break,” Ohtani said, looking ahead to Friday at Atlanta. ”that will give me only two days in-between. Obviously, I prioritize the season more than the All-Star Game.”
Kershaw, who passed Don Sutton in April for the team career strikeouts lead, will become the third Dodgers pitcher to start in the last seven All-Star Games, following Zack Greinke in 2015 at Cincinnati and Hyun Jin Ryu in 2019 at Cleveland. He will be the 13th pitcher to start in his home ballpark, the first since former teammate Max Scherzer in 2018 at Washington.
Kershaw thought about daughter Cali and sons Chance, Charley and Cooper.
”As you get older, everything gets put into perspective a little more with this game and how special it is,” Kershaw said. ”I was just trying to hang on a little longer for them to see it. I think my daughter is 7 and my oldest son is 5, and I’ve got a 2-year-old and 7-month-old that probably won’t remember this. But the 7- and 5-year-old, it’s just fun to see it through their eyes, and hopefully I get them down here to watch the Home Run Derby and just kind of see it. I think they are starting to understand baseball a little more.”
Out in the San Fernando Valley, Charley plays youth ball in Toluca Lake with Charlie Freeman, the son of Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman. Both are 5.
”That’s been fun. I think they start that again in about two months – joy, kids playing baseball, there’s nothing better than that,” Freeman said. ”Unfortunately, we don’t get to be there every game and every practice, so we those other coaches do their jobs.”
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