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Column: Shohei Ohtani retired a meme by joining a team where his heroics aren’t the only story

Dodgers designated hitter Shohei Ohtani runs the bases after hitting a home run during the fifth inning Friday
Dodgers designated hitter Shohei Ohtani runs the bases after hitting a home run during the fifth inning against the Angels at Dodger Stadium on Friday.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)
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Shohei Ohtani homered Friday night.

He reached base four times.

His team lost.

These were like the good old days again, a Herculean effort by Ohtani wasted in defeat.

Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani greets the Angels' Michael Stefanic and Mickey Moniak at Dodger Stadium on Friday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

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The phenomenon was so common in the six years Ohtani played for the Angels that Japanese reporters coined a term for it: Nao-EhNao meaning something like furthermore, and Eh the first letter of the Japanese word for Angels, Enzerusu.

The Japanese equivalent of the Tungsten Arm O’Doyle meme was inspired by television news reports on Ohtani’s heroics, which often concluded with broadcasters obligated to point out, “Furthermore, the Angels lost.”

Once commonly used in sports newspaper headlines, Nao-Eh is now retired from the lexicon of Ohtani’s home country, and there hasn’t been a reason to update the made-up word to account for the two-way player’s move to the Dodgers.

Despite a mammoth two-run home run from Shohei Ohtani, the Dodgers lose to the Angels 3-2, ending a 10-game winning streak against their rivals.

June 21, 2024

Even after a 10-inning, 3-2 loss to the Angels in the opening game of the Freeway Series, the Dodgers lead their division by eight games.

Their 47-31 record is the second best in the National League.

“I have the impression that as a team, everyone is mindful of the long term,” Ohtani said in Japanese. “Even while understanding [the long-term goals], the players know they have to win the game in front of them. There’s some difference in that balance.”

When Ohtani played for the Angels, they were just thinking about now, now, now. They were always in survival mode, and that was only if they weren’t already dead. They never came close to reaching the postseason with Ohtani on their team, just as they won’t again this year without him. They’re just 30-45, already 12? games behind the first-place Seattle Mariners in the American League West.

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How fortunate for the sport that Angels owner Arte Moreno refused to match the heavily deferred, 10-year, $700-million deal offered to Ohtani by the Dodgers.

Angels second baseman Michael Stefanic forces out Shohei Ohtani while turning a double play.
Angels second baseman Michael Stefanic forces out Shohei Ohtani while turning a double play at Dodger Stadium on Friday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

How fortunate for the Dodgers.

How fortunate for Ohtani.

Who knows what Ohtani would have done if Moreno agreed to the same bargain deal he ultimately signed with the Dodgers, but the choice was made for him and he’s now playing games that matter.

By extension, his NL-leading 22 home runs entering Saturday matter in ways his previous home runs didn’t. His 55 runs batted in matter. His major league best .322 average matters.

“I think where there will be big differences is in the second half of the season,” Ohtani said. “If we can play our baseball until then, beyond that is a place I haven’t experienced yet, so I’m looking forward to that.”

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Ohtani has embraced the responsibility.

He’s historically his most productive in June, and he’s once again making his trademark midseason surge in the MVP race.

He has homered seven times in his last 11 games, including five times in his last six ahead of Saturday’s series finale with the Angels. He has batted .500 since replacing sidelined infielder Mookie Betts as the team’s leadoff hitter.

“My stance is stabilized and I have a good grasp of the strike zone,” Ohtani said. “I think that leads to me hitting hittable pitches.”

Such as the fifth-inning fastball by Angels reliever Matt Moore that he launched for a 455-foot homer Friday.

The at-bat against Moore started like every other one over the last week, with Ohtani stepping into the batter’s box and touching the bottom point of the plate with the end of his bat. He laid his bat on the ground in line with the third base line, the knob indicating to him where he should place the front of his left foot.

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“Having the same stance and standing in the same position is what’s most important,” he explained after a recent game in Colorado. “Depending on the stadium, the thickness of the lines [of the batter’s box] can change. So I don’t want to be off because of that.”

Everything’s lining up for Ohtani.

Finally, he’s on a team that can turn his homers into wins. Finally, he’s on a team that isn’t entirely dependent on him. Finally, he’s on a team that will take him to baseball’s most important stage.

Nao-Eh is no more.

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