Shohei Ohtani showcases the 'lightning in that bat' with hardest-hit homer of his career

WASHINGTON – As Shohei Ohtani labored through his first three at-bats Tuesday night, a bipartisan crowd of 28,036 at Nationals Park oohed and ahhed with every one of his movements.

A shattered bat on a grounder. A line drive right at the center fielder. A towering drive to the same part of the park – all met with murmurs of anticipation, as if their collective reverence might will the spectacular into existence.

And Ohtani did not disappoint.

He sent the anticipatory crowd home sated with the final swing of his bat, a vicious hack at reliever Matt Barnes’ splitter, sending it into the second deck in right field and delivering the hardest-hit ball in the major leagues this season.

Exit velocity: A blazing 118.7 mph. Distance: A mere 450 feet, if only because the ball was on a beeline to the cheap seats.

Result: The hardest-hit home run of Ohtani’s career, his sixth this season, cinching a 4-1 Dodgers victory.

Oh, it wasn’t the hardest ball Ohtani’s ever hit. That distinction came in April 2022, a 119.1 mph double.

Yet Tuesday’s blast was a reminder that Ohtani, the two-way superstar limited to just hitting this year, resides in a different rent district of ropes.

It’s rare air, occupied by the 6-foot-6 Giancarlo Stanton and 6-foot-7 Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees, along with 6-7 shortstop Oneil Cruz of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

At 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, Ohtani can’t quite stand eye to eye with those fellows, in person or on the exit velocity leaderboard. But he’s also arguably the greatest athlete on the planet – and the sheer violence of his bat meeting ball coalesced in the ninth inning Tuesday.

“It looks like a cruise missile,” says Dodgers outfielder James Outman, who provided the pinch-hit, go-ahead double in the eighth inning.

“That was absurd.”

It knocked Stanton and Fernando Tatis Jr. off the Statcast leaderboard, their 116.7-mph drives now second to Ohtani’s. Heaven help us if the two-time MVP ever runs into one.

“A topspin liner that reached the second deck,” says Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. "It’s lightning in that bat.

“Anytime he swings the bat and makes contact, he can change the game.”

Shohei Ohtani celebrates with third base coach Dino Ebel (91) while rounding the bases after hitting a solo home run against the Washington Nationals.
Shohei Ohtani celebrates with third base coach Dino Ebel (91) while rounding the bases after hitting a solo home run against the Washington Nationals.

It simply pushed the Dodgers’ lead to three runs, which came in handy when closer Evan Phillips loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth before escaping the jam. The heavily-favored NL West stalwarts are now 14-11 and finally a game clear of the field in their division.

Yet they gave Ohtani a 10-year, $700 million contract for the long haul. His chapter in L.A. is just getting started, but he showed Tuesday that each at-bat can create awe – and appreciation.

“You feel grateful,” says shortstop Miguel Rojas, “to be on the same team as a guy like him.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Shohei Ohtani records hardest-hit home run as Dodgers beat Nationals