Shohei Ohtani dazzles on Opening Day, but Oakland Athletics win upset

OAKLAND — A few hours after A’s manager Mark Kotsay passed on the opportunity to call Shohei Ohtani the best player in baseball, Ohtani accomplished in 10 minutes what most players won’t in an entire career.

In the fourth inning, he smashed a Kyle Muller fastball through the right side for a single. Exit velocity: 112 mph off the bat, the hardest-hit ball of the night.

A few minutes after that, Ohtani struck out Ramón Laureano on a pitch that registered at 101 mph. It was the fastest pitch of the night.

He finished the game 1-for-3 with a walk at the plate, and he threw six scoreless innings on the mound, allowing just two hits, walking three and striking out 10 in another masterful one-man performance, the likes of which baseball hasn’t seen since the early 1900s.

And the Angels lost.

They graciously made a pitching change in the later innings and the A’s capitalized, manufacturing two runs off Angels reliever Aaron Loup to come away with a stunning 2-1 win on Opening Day.

“A great start,” Kotsay said after the game.

Before the game, the second-year manager was asked to name the best player in baseball right now. Crowded by reporters, many there just to cover Ohtani, Kotsay gave a surprising answer.

“Aaron Judge won the A.L. MVP last year,” Kotsay said. “Aaron Judge started the season on a 1-0 count with a home run off one of the best sinker ball pitchers in the league (Giants righty Logan Webb). So I think he supported that answer today.”

The Coliseum was as full as it’s been on Opening Day since 2019, with 26,805 fans, many who showed up two hours early and lined the stands along the right-field line, waiting to see Ohtani warm up.

A sea of red crowded the area near the Angels’ bullpen as Ohtani started to throw.

Judge might be the first name that came to mind in the debate over MLB’s best player, but Ohtani “makes baseball more fun,” Kotsay said.

When Mike Trout was introduced for his first at-bat of the season, boos could be heard throughout the park.

When Ohtani’s name was announced next, the crowd gave him a standing ovation, with A’s fans waving green caps in the air and others gently tipping theirs to show respect to the man who has prompted regular comparisons to Babe Ruth.

The game was scoreless until the fifth, when Angels catcher Logan O’Hoppe lifted a single into left to score Gio Urshela for a 1-0 lead.

One run might’ve been enough with Ohtani dealing. Against him, the A’s looked helpless, swinging and missing 13 times and mustering just two hits in six innings.

Finally, the A’s found their magic in the eighth, when they plated two runs against Loup to begin the year with a come-from-behind win.

Ohtani wasn’t pleased with himself for striking out twice. He was also walked intentionally with first base open in the eighth and finished 1-for-3.

A 1-for-3 game every night makes a .333 hitter. Ohtani, who said he’s hoping to hit .300 this year, wasn’t thrilled.

“We lacked that one big hit,” he said.

Evaluating an Ohtani performance requires two lenses. A dud at the plate can be irrelevant when he also struck out 10 with a devastating splitter and a “sweeper,” a slurve-like pitch that has become trendy in baseball after Ohtani threw it 37% of the time last year.

“He dominated us for a little bit,” Kotsay said.

The A’s and Angels combined to throw 290 pitches in the game. The 28 hardest-thrown pitches all belonged to one man: Ohtani.

Still, it’s Judge, not Ohtani, who enters the year as the reigning A.L. MVP after receiving 28 first-place votes last season. Ohtani received only two.

Judge hit 62 home runs, topping Roger Maris’ American League record of 61 set in 1961. Before Maris, Ruth held the A.L. record with 60 home runs in 1927.

Ohtani hit 34 home runs, but he also won 15 games on the mound, accomplishing something Ruth never did: winning 10 games and hitting 30 home runs in the same season.

Who is better, Judge or Ohtani?

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