Shohei Ohtani became the first Japanese player to lead a U.S. major league in home runs, capturing the American League title with 44 on Sunday, the last day of the regular season.

The two-way star achieved the feat despite playing in just 135 games before undergoing season-ending elbow surgery last month.

He is the first Japanese player to win an MLB batting crown since 2004, when Ichiro Suzuki led both leagues in average and claimed his second AL batting title as a member of the Seattle Mariners.

Shohei Ohtani (L) of the Los Angeles Angels exchanges a fist bump with a teammate in the dugout during a baseball game against the Oakland Athletics at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California, on Oct. 1, 2023. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

"Thinking about the great Japanese players who have played in the U.S. major leagues until now, it's both humbling and a great honor. I'm grateful to my teammates and fans," Ohtani said in a statement.

Ohtani, who on Saturday was named the Los Angeles Angels' team MVP for the third straight season, is the overwhelming favorite to be named this year's AL MVP for the second time.

He posted a .304 batting average, a .412 on-base percentage and a .654 slugging average, all highs in his six-year MLB career. He went 10-5 as a pitcher with a 3.14 ERA and struck out 167 batters in 132 innings, and is expected to sign a record contract as an MLB free agent over the winter.

Ohtani watched from the dugout Sunday as the Angels wrapped up their season with a 7-3 win over the Oakland Athletics. The Halos finished fourth in the AL West with a 73-89 record, plummeting out of playoff contention after being in the hunt at the Aug. 1 trade deadline.

This year, Ohtani's 44 homers were fourth in MLB behind the 54 hit by Atlanta's Matt Olson, but he led the AL by five over Texas' Adolis Garcia's 39.

In 2021, when Ohtani was the AL's unanimous choice for MVP, he hit a career-high 46 homers and finished third in the AL and MLB, two behind the Toronto's Vladimir Guerrero and Kansas City's Salvador Perez.

Combined file photo shows Los Angeles Angels' Shohei Ohtani hitting his (from L) 41st, 42nd, 43rd and 44th home runs of the 2023 major league season. (Kyodo)

Ohtani appeared on track to surpass that figure when he hit his 44th in the Angels' second game against Cincinnati on Aug. 23. That was also the last day he pitched, leaving the opener after facing just four batters for what turned out to be ligament damage in his right elbow.

Although he continued as the Angels' designated hitter, Ohtani's season ended during pre-game batting practice on Sept. 4, when he suffered an oblique muscle injury.

When it became clear he would be unable to return to the lineup as a hitter, Ohtani underwent surgery on his right elbow, the same one that was surgically repaired after his 2018 MLB debut season.

After surgery, he is hoping to hit exclusively in 2024 and return to being a two-way player in 2025.

Suzuki won his first AL batting title in his 2001 rookie season, when he tied Larry Walker of the National League's Colorado Rockies with an MLB-best .350 average, while also leading both leagues with 56 stolen bases.

The star outfielder won both AL Rookie of the Year and MVP that season. He averaged .372 in 2004, when he set the MLB single-season record with 262 hits.

Among pitchers, Japanese MLB trailblazer Hideo Nomo led the NL with 236 strikeouts in his 1995 rookie season with the Los Angeles Dodgers. In 2001, as a member of the Boston Red Sox, he led the AL with 220 strikeouts.

Yu Darvish, now with the San Diego Padres, led both leagues with 277 strikeouts for the AL's Texas Rangers in 2013. He was also the first Japanese pitcher to lead a U.S. major in wins, earning eight for the NL's Chicago Cubs during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

Copies of an extra edition of a newspaper are handed out in front of JR Tokyo Station on Oct. 2, 2023, after Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels became the first Japanese player to lead a U.S. major league in home runs. (Kyodo)

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