Friday, August 25, 2023

Ohtani Makes Citi Field Debut, Battles Fellow Japanese Star Senga

Kodai Senga pitching to Shohei Ohtani in the third inning. Photo by Jason Schott.

The Mets began a three-game series with the Los Angeles Angels on Friday night at Citi Field, and there was no doubt who the marquee attraction was: Shohei Ohtani.

The Japanese superstar, who plays both sides of the ball at a superior quality, has a Major League-leading 44 home runs, to go along with a .304 batting average and 91 RBI as a hitter, as well as a 10-5 record with a 3.15 ERA (earned run average) as a pitcher.

Ohtani was slotted in the second spot in the Angels lineup on Friday night as a designated hitter, and that’s likely all he’ll do this weekend as he was diagnosed on Wednesday with a tear of his UCL (ulnar collateral ligament), which will keep him off the mound for the rest of this season.

Mets Manager Buck Showalter, in his pregame remarks on Friday, said of Ohtani, “I’ve seen him, I’ve seen him before, we played against him. (Referring to his time managing Baltimore against Ohtani as a rookie in 2018) It’s been good for baseball and good for, you know, growing the game, the whole nine yards. I think it’s been great, hope he takes a little break from that (hitting) for three days, but I doubt it; we’ve got our work cut out for us. 

“I think most people in baseball, sounds like he’s going to continue to hit, but the game, you know, if you love baseball and the game, you always want it to do well, you like the idea of him doing what he’s been doing, unless it’s done to you, but when I first heard some of the challenges that he’s got physically, I felt bad for the game. It’s good for him to be doing things like that, it’s very special.”

On Ohtani’s success as a two-way player, the first since Babe Ruth in the 1910s with the Boston Red Sox, Showalter said, “You know, every year, there are people drafted, and again this year, in fact, we drafted one that has the ability to play two ways, and it could go either way, but the difference is that’s going to go either way, more than likely, but I think it opens up a lot of avenues. People think about it now when they’re drafting a player, well maybe, because it’s been done by him, but if you look at all the circumstances of why and how he’s doing it and it’s obviously very rare, and is that something that nobody else could do it? There’s challenges I’m sure that your roster and everything faces because he is doing both, but I think it’s one that every manager, pitching coach, and hitting coach would take on in a heartbeat. Sometimes, you wonder if maybe in the future somebody is going to try it, but I don’t know if they’re going to have the success he’s had.” 

The Mets sent fellow countryman, Kodai Senga, to the mound on Friday, and Showalter said of his pitcher relishing the matchup, “You know, when I talked to him about, because we had an option there a little bit, at least take his feelings in about pitching tonight or, thus was like two or three weeks ago, because we tried to get ahead of it and let him know what we’re thinking and see if he has any adjustments, he might have a better idea, it was something that he, it was like, what does the team need me to do, what’s best, we trust you guys with handling me physically and what best suits the team’s needs, that’s when I’ll pitch. The rest of it, whether he has some private emotions about it or whatever, he keeps those inside.

“He’s always been about our team and what’s best and, you know, something I really respect and appreciate, but you know, what actually is the case, we’re all human beings, we all have emotions about what things. I’ve talked some to Hiro, the interpreter, and he keeps me in reality about what’s really going on, you know, what’s concerning, keeping in mind the challenges Kodai faces, and that they don’t go away. There’s so many new things he’s experiencing for the first time, like it’s going to be, hopefully, pitching in September for the first time in the States. It’s fun for the fans, I can tell you that!”

Ohtani walked in the first inning, and then in his next at-bat in the third inning, he laced one to right field that skipped by Jeff McNeil for a double. 

That gave the Angels runners on second and third base, after Nolan Schanuel was hit by a pitch to open the frame. Brandon Drury hit a sacrifice fly to bring in Schanuel, and Mike Moustakas singled home Ohtani to make it 2-0 Los Angeles. 

The Mets got a run right back in the bottom of the third when Francisco Lindor snaked one inside the left field foul pole. It was the Mets' shortstop's 24th home run and 79th RBI of the season.

Senga kept it right there at 2-1, as he only allowed a walk to Ohtani in the fifth and one to Logan O'Hoppe in the sixth before he was pulled with one out in the seventh.

However, the Mets could not break through against Angels starter Pedro Sandoval, who went six innings, but they had a golden chance in the seventh against reliever Matt Moore.

Danny Mendick led off with a double, and Jonathan Arauz then laid down a bunt, but he reached on an error by the catcher, O'Hoppe to give the Mets runners at first and third with nobody out. Tim Locastro then struck out before Brandon Nimmo flew out to left field, and even though it wasn't all that deep, third base coach Joey Cora sent Mendick, and he was thrown out easily by Randal Grichuk to complete the double play and end the inning.

Ohtani grounded out to first base against Adam Kolarek in the eighth in his final at-bat, and the Angels expanded their lead in the ninth when Schanuel got an RBI single to make it 3-1, which would be the final.

Senga was the hard-luck loser, as he fell to 10-7 with a 3.17 ERA, despite going 6 2/3 innings, allowing two runs (both earned) on four hits and three walks, with 10 strikeouts. The Mets are now 59-70, while the Angels improved to 62-67.

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