There are athletes who play a sport just for the competition of it. Then there are those who also relish the history and try to find a place for themselves to fit into it.

The history of a sport like baseball is incredibly expansive and growing every day, so the kinds of moments that come to a baseball historian’s mind when waxing poetic about the national past time are often on a much grander scale than what could possibly occur on a muggy night in mid-July.

But for a guy like Matt Strahm, there are individual moments that will always stand out. He expects he’ll have one when he comes in to pitch in his first All-Star Game next Tuesday. He remembers his first big moment – as a rookie with the Kansas City Royals facing Boston Red Sox legend David Ortiz with the bases loaded at Fenway Park.

“I remember it very vividly,” Strahm said, and then proceeded to tell the story of the confrontation with one of the game’s most-feared sluggers of his era.

“(Catcher Salvador Perez) called a curveball. I shook him. He called the curveball again. I shook him. He turned his head sideways. He gave me the heater, and that’s what I wanted.”

So, what happened?

“I think it was like a 114-mile-per-hour ground ball, double play,” Strahm said, a sheepish grin growing on his face, knowing he probably got away with one against Ortiz.

But he’s a different pitcher now. A savvy veteran. A more accomplished reliever who has been a part of the best bullpen in baseball since May 1st. He deserves his honor of being named to the All-Star Game. He’s been that good.

And so, it was time for a different kind of personal history moment on Wednesday.

Strahm has been the guy who the Phillies have trusted the most to get out of sticky situations. He takes pride coming into a game during a dirty inning (runners already on base) and limiting the damage or, even better, getting out of the jam unscathed.

This was different.

Strahm was asked to protect a lead in the seventh inning of the Phillies’ eventual 4-3 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers Wednesday by coming into a situation with two runners on base and one out and Shohei Ohtani stepping to the plate.

“He’s one of the greatest ever to pick up the bat,” Strahm said. He knew this confrontation was one he would log in his memory banks somewhere next to that night against Ortiz.

Phillies manager Rob Thomson had planned for this situation against the Dodgers. If Ohtani was going to come up in a crucial spot, he wanted Strahm to face him.

The reason?

Simple. As otherworldly as Ohtani is as a hitter, he’s merely average against sliders from left-handed pitchers.

Oh, and Matt Strahm has yet to yield a hit to a lefty against his slider this season.

Strahm threw Ohtani two sliders. The slugger missed both of them, badly. Striking out and looking perplexed doing so, nearly losing his helmet in the process.

“That’s kind of the pitch that I’ve developed in my time here with the Phillies,” Strahm said. “So, I’ll throw it to anyone.”

And while that matchup was the one that everyone wanted to talk about, and one that will certainly become another vivid memory for Strahm that people will ask him about in future interviews, the job wasn’t done.

Ohtani was just the second out. There was still Teoscar Hernandez to deal with to finish the job.

“You know the situation,” Strahm said. “You know your job. I’m here to get two outs. Yeah, it’s Ohtani for the first one, but I got to make sure I get that second one. The second one is the most important.”

Strahm threw Hernandez a four-seamer on the black, down and in. It jammed him a bit, and he hit a can of corn to right field, ending the threat.

Strahm let the excitement of the moment – of succeeding in his job – shine threw after Nick Castellanos squeezed the ball for the final out of the inning.

“Anytime you are pitching here in the Bank, the atmosphere is unbelievable,” Strahm said. “You obviously are aware of who is in the box, but again, the energy of these fans is just unmatched. … You saw (the emotion) come out after Hernandez.”

The Phillies became the first team to reach 60 wins this season. They are just the 19th team to do so before the All-Star break in baseball history. If things go really well the rest of this week, they could be tied for the third-most wins at the break ever. They have now built a 5 1/2 -game lead over the Dodgers for the best record in the National League. It continues to be a very special season for the Phillies.

And history will tell you that you can’t have special seasons without winning some memorable matchups.

Just ask Matt Strahm.