Shohei Ohtani and Yusei Kikuchi sensed the excitement around Angel Stadium each time they dug in against each other. The Japanese stars also realized millions of eyes were on them from across the Pacific as they faced each other in the major leagues for the first time.
When Ohtani’s homer sailed into the night sky, the Angels slugger left no doubt who won the first stateside matchup in what’s likely to be a long, friendly rivalry between two incredible talents from Hanamaki Higashi High School.
Ohtani homered and singled in his first three major league at-bats against Kikuchi, leading Los Angeles to a 12-3 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Saturday night.
Ohtani’s fourth-inning homer was the Angels’ third consecutive dinger in four pitches off Kikuchi (3-4), who was chased from his rough start shortly afterward. Tommy La Stella and Mike Trout also homered before Ohtani hit the first big league homer by a Japanese-born hitter off a Japanese-born pitcher since 2009.
“I was trying to treat it like a normal game and a normal at-bat, but there was something special about it,” Ohtani said through a translator. “I mean, we went to the same high school. I’m glad that we got the results we wanted, though.”
Ohtani celebrated with obvious glee, even flexing his muscles in the dugout — although he was only mimicking a previous gesture by teammate Kole Calhoun, he said.
“That’s the most excited I’ve seen him on a homer,” Trout said. “I think I would be, too, if I went to the same high school. I’d be excited, too. I’d never seen him like that. It was pretty cool.”
The age gap between the 27-year-old Kikuchi and the 24-year-old Ohtani meant they were never high school teammates in northern Japan. Ohtani and Kikuchi faced off five times in Japan’s top league before Ohtani left to begin the next chapter in his revolutionary two-way career.
Although they haven’t been able to meet up for dinner yet this year, they’ve stayed in touch since Kikuchi arrived in the majors one season after Ohtani, the 2018 AL Rookie of the Year.
“I’m very proud of the fact that we faced each other on the highest level in baseball,” Ohtani said. “Hopefully we get to do it a lot more.”
Kikuchi’s ERA is up to 4.99 after he took his third consecutive loss while giving up nine hits and six earned runs to the Angels, who have scored 16 earned runs against him over three starts.
“They hit three home runs off me today, so I didn’t like what happened, including Ohtani,” Kikuchi said through a translator. “But I want to make sure next time I go out there and pitch against the Angels, I want to shut them down and do it for the team.”
Ohtani added an RBI double in the fifth inning off South African reliever Tayler Scott, who made his major league debut in relief of Kikuchi.
“He’s going to be OK,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said of Kikuchi. “On the homers, he just didn’t get the ball where he wanted to. The ball to Ohtani was just a curveball that stayed up. It happens.”
César Puello homered and drove in four runs, while Albert Pujols and Kevan Smith had two-run singles as the Angels pounded out 16 hits to win for just the second time in six games.
Kyle Seager and Edwin Encarnación homered for the Mariners, who have lost six of eight.
THE BIG SHO
Dozens of reporters from both sides of the Pacific covered the showdown, and Angel Stadium collectively oohed when Kikuchi’s first pitch to Ohtani was up and in, forcing the Angels star to bail out of the box. Ohtani hit a hard grounder to the right side on the third pitch and beat out an infield single.
Ohtani grounded out to first in the second inning, but moved a runner along in the process.
After La Stella opened the fourth with his 14th homer, Trout followed with his 17th. Ohtani blasted the next pitch just over the fence in left-center for the sixth homer of his truncated season.
The Angels hadn’t hit three consecutive homers since September 2016, also against Seattle. A Japanese-born batter hadn’t homered off a Japanese-born pitcher in the majors since July 8, 2009, when Kosuke Fukudome connected off Kenshin Kawakami.
After opener Noe Ramirez got four outs, Dillon Peters (1-0) yielded three runs over 5 2/3 resilient innings. The Triple-A starter capably filled in during a taxing stretch for the Angels, who were on the 17th game of 20 consecutive games without a day off.
Scott became the second South African player in major league history, and the first pitcher. The 27-year-old Johannesburg native, who moved to Arizona as a teenager, yielded four hits and three runs while striking out four in 2 2/3 innings.
Mariners: OF Mitch Haniger is out of the hospital after surgery on a ruptured testicle from a foul ball. Seattle doesn’t know how long he’ll be sidelined.
Angels: Trevor Cahill went on the injured list with right elbow soreness, scratching him from his scheduled start Sunday. The veteran could return from the injured list Friday. He felt soreness after his loss to the Cubs on Monday, but the injury isn’t thought to be serious.
Rookie lefty José Suarez (1-0, 4.76 ERA) will come up to make his second career start for Los Angeles against Wade LeBlanc (2-2, 5.70), who has won two of his three career starts against the Angels. Suarez beat the Mariners in his major league debut in Seattle last week, yielding three runs while pitching into the sixth.
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports