Oh, Harper and Ohtani are also linked in a rather calamitous way: Each have torn ligaments in their right elbow.
Ohtani has sustained the injury twice, actually, and the latest has sidelined him from pitching for the Los Angeles Angels for the rest of the season. Harper returned to the NL champion Philadelphia Phillies lineup in May -- 160 days after Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
Harper and Ohtani were both in the starting lineup Monday night in the opener of a three-game series. But Ohtani’s injury denied the pitcher-hitter showdown against Harper -- MVP vs. MVP -- Philly fans hoped for in the weeks leading into the series.
One of those fans? Harper.
“I think we were all looking forward to it because he’s one of the best is the game, on that mound and in the batter’s box, as well,” Harper said. “If you’re going to be one of the best, you have to face the best, and that’s him. So I think all of us we’re looking forward to it, but also thinking, ‘Man, he’s got some good stuff.’ So we’re bummed out and I just hope the best for him.”
Harper, in the fifth season of a $330 million, 13-year contract, returned to first base after serving as the designated hitter the last six games because of a balky back.
Harper may be at first but he wasn’t ready to pitch -- well, at least make one to Ohtani about signing with the Phillies as the two-way talent heads to free agency. Ohtani was the AL MVP front-runner and was expected to receive perhaps the most lucrative contract in baseball history. There’s no telling how much impact the elbow will have on the free agent market.
“He’s going to go wherever he feels best, and if that’s Anaheim or anywhere else, he’s going to make the best decision for him and his family,” Harper said. “Wherever he goes, they’re going to get a great player and great person, as well. I think not just myself but everybody is kind of excited to see what happens with his career, and where he ends up going.”
The Angels haven't said whether Ohtani will need surgery to repair his ulnar collateral ligament for the second time. Ohtani had his first Tommy John surgery in late 2018, following his AL Rookie of the Year season.
The two-way superstar leads the major leagues with 44 homers and is 10-game winner. He left the mound in the second inning of last Wednesday's start against Cincinnati after throwing 26 pitches. Angels manager Phil Nevin said Ohtani's right elbow was fine until he tore his ulnar collateral ligament with a 94 mph fastball to Cincinnati’s Christian Encarnacion-Strand.
"It's a huge bummer, not just for himself but everybody in baseball,” Harper said. “He’s one of the best to ever play and for him to get hurt the way he did, hopefully it’s not too bad and he can come back, rehab from it, hopefully not have to go under the knife, and just be Shohei, because everybody loves watching him.”
Ohtani entered Monday just one home run and one stolen base shy of his second 45-20 season and would join Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez as the only players with multiple 45 homer/20 steal years.
Not everyone was sorry the Phillies missed Ohtani, the pitcher.
“We’re fortunate,” Philadelphia manager Rob Thomson said. “You don’t want to see anyone get hurt, obviously. But he’s so dominant on the mound. I’d rather face somebody else.”
Ohtani also leads the American League with a .409 on-base percentage and ranks among the top five in batting average and RBIs. He was 3 for 9 with three runs, two steals and an RBI over the weekend as the Angels took two of three at the Mets.
As for Harper, the achy back hasn’t affected him much at the plate.
Harper — who also bats left and throws right-handed, like Ohtani — is 12 for 23 with six runs, a double, a triple, three home runs, 10 RBIs and three walks in his last six games. The Phillies had won three straight games and hold the top spot in the NL wild card race.
“It’s felt good the last couple of games in the batter’s box and swinging at strikes and understanding my strike zone,” he said. “It’s like it’s all coming together. Hopefully, it stays that way.”
AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb