In the bottom of the first inning Wednesday, having fallen behind in the count to Shohei Ohtani, Kevin Gausman went to his best pitch. He threw Ohtani a splitter and the bottom fell out. The Angels superstar missed the pitch badly and then briefly looked up at the sky and made a face.
At that moment, perhaps Ohtani realized what it's like for opposing hitters to stand in the box and face him.
Gausman and Ohtani have the two best splitters in the game, but it was clear Wednesday that one pitcher stands a step above the other one right now. Gausman threw his splitter 49 times and got 18 swinging strikes, including five from Ohtani, who came away impressed.
"He's a great pitcher," he said through an interpreter after the game. "His splitter was moving in a way that I haven't really seen recently. He got the best of us."
Gausman and Ohtani essentially played to a draw, but the Giants won 9-3 in the 13th inning. The highly-anticipated matchup between two of the game's most electric starters lived up to the hype. Combined, Gausman and Ohtani allowed just two runs, struck out 18 and got 40 swinging strikes.
By getting 18 swinging strikes with his splitter, Gausman set a career-high and broke his own unofficial recent record. Baseball Savant's database goes back to 2008 and no pitcher in that time has gotten more swings-and-misses with the split than Gausman did Wednesday. He recorded 17 in a 2018 game for the Orioles and 16 earlier this year in a game against the Marlins. Ohtani and Matt Shoemaker are the only other pitchers since 2008 to get 16 swinging strikes with their splitter.
Gausman threw it on 49 of 100 pitches, getting 34 strikes. In addition to the 18 swinging strikes, the Angels fouled off 10 splitters. Six were put in play, resulting in five groundouts and a flyout. It's just an impossible pitch to do anything with right now.
Ohtani saw 12 of the 49 splitters in his three matchups with Gausman, which was by design.
"I knew going into the game that I'm going to throw him my best pitch," Gausman said. "He's a very good hitter. I got in a lot of counts where it favored me and I ended up throwing some really good ones. I ended up throwing him some of the better ones that I threw today."
Both pitchers continued their strong seasons, with Gausman lowering his ERA to 1.49 and Ohtani dropping his to 2.58. Gausman said he came away with a greater appreciation of the two-way star's talent, noting that you "can tell he's different" even during warmups. Gausman took note of how many fans and members of the media were around just to watch Ohtani prepare.
"Usually people don't care too much about watching the starting pitcher warm up, but he's a different animal," Gausman said. "It's impressive. It's impressive what he's been able to do and the athlete that he is, to be able to throw 99 (mph) and to also be able to hit the ball a long way. He's a very dynamic player and very exciting."