Shohei Ohtani, Angels take down Kodai Senga, Mets in series opener

It was a matchup anticipated halfway around the world: Kodai Senga vs. Shohei Ohtani.

There was a buzz in the air that hadn’t been felt at Citi Field since back in May when the Mets still had hope for the season. Ohtani and the Los Angeles Angels did too, for that matter, and they’re still hoping for a miracle, but they can keep hoping after a 3-1 win over the Mets on Friday night.

If Senga had any extra emotions, he didn’t let them show. He said that he was proud to pitch on Japanese Heritage Night and noted that he had previously faced Ohtani, but despite the fanfare in New York and Japan, it seemed as though it was just another start for Senga.

“I think he’s so focused on pitching that he doesn’t get caught up in that type of moment,” said manager Buck Showalter. “But it’s good for baseball and [Japan] and they both presented themselves well.”

Ohtani won the matchup against his Japanese countryman going 1-for-1 with two walks. Senga, the Mets’ rookie right-hander, walked Ohtani on four pitches in the first inning. Showalter said he was trying to get Ohtani to chase something outside, but Senga said he struggled with his control. He wasn’t trying to pitch around a generational hitter, but his best stuff didn’t come until later in the game.

“I wasn’t able to control myself as well until later on in the game,” Senga said through translator Hiro Fujiwara. “Not just in that first at-bat against him, but in general, in the first half of the game I wasn’t able to command the way I wanted to.”

It was Ohtani’s third-inning double that ultimately doomed Senga (10-7) and the Mets.

Facing the top of the order, Senga hit Nolan Schanuel with a pitch to put one on and bring up Ohtani. Senga finally challenged the game’s most-feared slugger with a cutter right over the plate. Ohtani hit it hard — but foul. The next pitch was a cutter low and away for ball one. Senga then received a generous strike call with a high fastball that Ohtani took.

Senga went back to the cutter on 1-2 and Ohtani smoked it to right field. It was registered at more than 115 MPH off the bat and it looped and curved all the way to the warning track, sending right fielder Jeff McNeil one way and then another.

McNeil nearly got to the ball but it fell past his outstretched glove for a double, advancing Schanuel to third.

A sacrifice fly by onetime former Met Brandon Drury and an RBI single by veteran third baseman Mike Moustakas scored Schanuel and Ohtani to put the visitors up 2-0.

“The fact that he’s an outstanding hitter doesn’t change and it hasn’t changed,” Senga said. “The things like the exit velo and the stuff that he hits is incredible and it has been incredible in Japan and here, maybe even a little more so in Japan.”

Senga faced no other trouble. He exited with two out and none on in the seventh after facing the order the third time through. He struck out Mickey Moniak and Randall Grichuk to record his third career double-digit strikeout game, allowing only two runs on four hits.

The Mets didn’t give Senga much help offensively. Francisco Lindor’s third-inning home run against Patrick Sandoval (6-11) made it 2-1 and the Mets (59-70) would get no closer. The Angels (62-67) scored again in the ninth.

Ohtani will not make his scheduled start against the Mets this week because of a torn ulnar collateral ligament. He’s mulling another Tommy John surgery, though he would like to avoid it. How that will affect his future — be it with the Angels, the Mets or another team — is unknown. The most unique player the game has seen in a generation will head into free agency injured.

Ohtani came up to bat in the ninth to face left-hander Brooks Raley with runners on the corners and two outs. The Mets intentionally walked him.

The buzz from those early at-bats was gone. It was replaced by boos. It was a fittingly lackluster ending for two teams headed toward lackluster finishes to the 2023 season.

The buzz from those early at-bats was gone, having been replaced by boos. It was a fittingly lackluster ending for two teams skidding to the end.

“I don’t know if it was a special day,” Senga said. “But it was a good experience.”


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