DENVER — It should have been one of the White Sox’ big guns. Lance Lynn or Carlos Rodon would’ve fit the bill of American League All-Star starting pitcher quite well.
One supposes a pretty solid case could have been made for the Yankees’ Gerrit Cole or the Rangers’ Kyle Gibson.
But Shohei Ohtani? The Angels’ two-way rock star who’s here both as a hitter and as a pitcher — insert obligatory pause to appreciate this amazing feat — even though his numbers on the mound pale by comparison with those of the other starters on the AL roster?
As Lynn told the Sun-Times heading into the All-Star break, for AL manager Kevin Cash to give the ball to Ohtani first wouldn’t be the ”best [choice] among the players.”
”There are quite a few people who’ve had better first halves, for sure,” Lynn said.
Or, as Rodon put it Monday: ”If we’re going to go off who’s the best pitcher, I think the most deserving would be Lance, probably. And I wish it was.”
But this is where we need to pause again because both pitchers understand why the Shohei Show must go on. It’s not just that the baseball world is in awe of the first player to be selected as both a position player (designated hitter, in Ohtani’s case) and a pitcher. It’s not just Major League Baseball trying to capitalize on a player’s off-the-charts popularity. It’s that Ohtani actually needs to pull off doing it all at Coors Field — from the Home Run Derby on Monday to double duty Tuesday — and that’s no joke.
It’s a lot, and Cash — after multiple consultations with Angels manager Joe Maddon — came to the decision that he wasn’t going to ask Ohtani to do something he never had done before. Starting on the mound and taking his turns at bat in the same game, he has done. For the All-Star Game, MLB has tweaked its rules and will allow Ohtani to remain in the game at DH after he pitches.
”I felt like I threw my name in the hat to have that opportunity,” Lynn said Monday. ”But with what [Ohtani] is doing and what he’s capable of, and you look at how the game is going to flow, it would’ve been tough for him to go get loose down in the bullpen and then come out somewhere in the middle of the game.”
Oh, but also?
”This is what the fans want to see,” Cash said. ”Personally, it’s what I want to see.”
Yes, it might be what everyone not named Lynn, Rodon or Joe Sox Fan wants to see.
”I think it’s great for the game,” Rodon said. ”He’s a joy to watch. A great, great hitter, and it’s unbelievable that he can do it on the mound, too. . . .
”If you look at it from MLB’s aspect, it’s best that Ohtani starts now. Do I agree with it? Maybe not. I would like, obviously, my teammate to start the game, but I understand what they’re trying to do. And it’s not like he’s not still a great pitcher.”
Wait a minute, what’s with Rodon siding with Lynn’s candidacy over his own? Some of us have looked at their numbers a good dozen times and still can’t figure out who had a better first half. And only one of them — not Lynn — put a no-hitter into the mix.
To Rodon, it’s Lynn’s age — at 34, six years older than his rotation mate — that should break a tie.
”I think he’s just scared of me,” Lynn said. ”I think he just wants it to be known that he rooted for me.”
Now that’s funny.
”But, no,” Lynn said, ”we both had great first halves, and we’ve both been pulling for each other.”
This time, they’ll pull for each other from the bullpen.