The long anticipated matchup of Angels Shohei Ohtani and his high school teammate Yusei Kikuchi final came to fruition Saturday. Round 1 goes to Shohei Ohtani.
Angels two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani burst on the scene in 2018 and set the baseball world on its ear when Ohtani was able to deliver as advertised. Ohtani became the first successful two-way player since Babe Ruth did it a little more than 100 years ago.
Although Ohtani’s pitching season was cut short due to a UCL tear, he remained as a DH and did so well that he took home the AL Rookie of the Year honors after the season.
This year there was another Japanese star that came over to the U.S. to play in the majors, Yusei Kikuchi. Kikuchi has been billed as one of the top young pitchers in Japan and was briefly courted by the Angels before signing with Seattle this past winter.
The interesting aside was the fact that Ohtani and Kikuchi were high school teammates at Hanamaki Higashi High School in Iwate, Japan. Many baseball fans, especially the ones in Japan were eagerly anticipating a Kikuchi-Ohtani showdown.
On Thursday, May 30th in Seattle a number of Japanese media and a capacity crowd at Seattle’s Safeco Field were hoping to see this first meeting. However, the Angels gave Ohtani the day off so the matchup would have to wait.
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The wait wasn’t very long as just over a week later in Anaheim Kikuchi was again on the mound against the Angels and this time Shohei Ohtani would be in the line-up. The stage was set on Saturday night and in the bottom of the first inning Ohtani came up against Kikuchi for the first time in the major leagues and reached base on an infield single.
According to MLB.com the Angels PR department said there were about 80 Japanese media in attendance in Anaheim to report on the match-up.
In the second inning Kikuchi got Ohtani to ground out so the battle was tied at one. However in the fourth inning Ohtani strode to the plate following Tommy La Stella and Mike Trout who had just homered back-to-back. Could Ohtani make it a trifecta. You Bet!!!
Ohtani drove Kikuchi’s first pitch over the left-centerfield fence for the third consecutive home run for the Angels in the inning. Three batters later Scott Servais came out and removed Kikuchi from the game with the Angels leading 6-2.
Here is the video of Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani’s home runs off of Yusei Kikuchi courtesy of Fox Sports West and a Fabian Ardaya tweet.
So if you’re keeping score Ohtani won the match-up against Kikuchi two hits to one out. This marked the first time a Japanese hitter and pitcher had faced each other in a major league game since Ichiro Suzuki squared off against Shigetoshi Hasegawa in 2001.
Kikuchi had faced Ohtani in Japan twice before Saturday night’s match-up. This the pairs first meeting in the majors, but will probably be one of many if both players remain in the American League together.
Ohtani added a double against Tayler Scott in the bottom of the fifth inning and later grounded out in the 7th to end his banner night going 3 for 5 with two RBIs and three runs scored. More importantly for the Angels they won the game 12-3 to break a min two game slide.