At approximately 7:54 p.m. West Coast time, the internet melted down.
In his first at-bat in front of the home fans in Anaheim, two-way wonder Shohei Ohtani swung at a 2-2 curveball from Josh Tomlin and lofted a fly ball to center field. Watching on television, it looked like a routine fly ball hit off the end of Ohtani's black bat, except the center fielder kept drifting back, the ball kept carrying and maybe the baseball gods lent a helpful hand at the last instant to push the ball into the first row of stands.
The home run was an impressive display of Ohtani's raw power that scouts have raved about -- yet it still felt unexpected and wonderful, a moment that makes you scream "Yes!" in unfiltered enthusiasm. That wasn't even the best part of the home run.
He swung with a slight twist of the hips, cocking his bat into position and following through with his front foot pointed to the mound instead of using the high leg kick he used in Japan, finishing off his swing as if he were hitting a 2-iron at Augusta. He took off out of the box -- he wasn't immediately sure it was out -- and as he rounded third base tried to suppress a smile. As he crossed home plate and returned to the dugout, the Angels gave him the cold shoulder. That wasn't the best part.
Angels fans erupted in joy, jumping up and down, raising their hands over their heads in exultation and high-fiving their neighbors. They stood on their feet, gave Othani a curtain call and he hopped out of the dugout and tipped his helmet. That still wasn't the best part.
The best moment of the moment came after his teammates ignored Ohtani, a long-standing tradition when a player hits his first major league home run. Bench coach Josh Paul didn't even look at him as he stepped down into the dugout. Angels players remained lined up along the railing. Yet there was Ohtani, a smile as wide as the Pacific, waving his hands over his head in the empty dugout. He was so happy. He grabbed Ian Kinsler because he had to hug somebody. Finally, his teammates turned around and mobbed him.
That moment of pure happiness on Ohtani's face was beautiful. It was a 5-year-old kid blowing out the candles at a birthday party. That was the best part. As David Ross said in the ESPN booth during the Angels' 13-2 win over the Indians, "Just a cool moment in baseball."
The dugout reaction to Ohtani's HR, and then his reaction to it, was pretty fun. pic.twitter.com/vi5OInvDk9
— Andrew Simon (@AndrewSimonMLB) April 4, 2018
Will this two-way thing work? Ohtani is already the first non-pitcher to start on Opening Day and then start on the mound in the first 10 games of a season since 1919 -- when Babe Ruth did it. We've seen Ohtani pitch. Now we've seen him hit (he later added two hard-hit singles). A common refrain on Twitter was along the likes of: "I'd like to see him hit more home runs than he gives up and strike out more batters than he strikes out as a batter."
Given where we are with the specialization in baseball, that seems almost impossible. But now it sounds possible. Maybe Ohtani can pull this off.
Good news for the Mets.Matt Harvey gave up one hit to the Phillies over five scoreless innings in his first start, striking out five with one walk. This wasn't the overpowering Harvey of his peak or even the 2015 World Series season, as he averaged 91.7 mph with his fastball. He did throw it with much more confidence than last season, however, and challenged the Phillies with it up in the zone. Seven of his 10 non-strikeout outs came on fly balls or infield pop-ups, so at least on this cold night at Citi Field, the Phillies weren't turning on it with any damage.
Keep in mind the first rule of the first week of the season: Don't overreact to the first week of the season. Still, it was obviously a positive development for the Mets, who have maybe as wide a swing of outcomes this season as any team based on the health of their starting rotation.
One key stat to look at was Harvey's swing-and-miss rate. He generated nine swings and misses, with a miss rate of 22.5 percent. Last season, when he fanned only 67 batters in 92 ⅔ innings, his miss rate was 18.5 percent, so this was at least a small increase from that (although below the 26.5 percent miss rate of 2015).
Wild one in Milwaukee. I was set to write an ode to my man Tommy Pham, who homered, doubled, stole a base and threw a runner at home, but the Brewers stunned the Cardinals with back-to-back home runs in the bottom of the ninth from Christian Yelich and Ryan Braun off of Dominic Leone to win it 5-4. (Note to Greg Holland: Can you be ready on Wednesday?)
Dexter Fowler and Pham had led off the game with back-to-back home runs, giving us this statistical shining moment: It was the first game in major league history that began and ended with back-to-back home runs. It was Braun's first walk-off home run since September 2011:
RYAN BRAUN WALKS IT OFF! pic.twitter.com/vxWYs3fgQQ
— FOX Sports Wisconsin (@fswisconsin) April 4, 2018
Leone is supposed to play a key role in the Cardinals' bullpen, even after Holland is ready to take over in the ninth. Leone had a nice season with the Blue Jays, posting a 2.56 ERA with 81 strikeouts in 70 ⅓ innings and had a solid rookie campaign with the Mariners in 2014. He also had some injury issues in 2015 and spent a large chunk of 2016 in the minors after struggling with the Diamondbacks.
Yelich homered on a 2-2 slider, Braun on a first-pitch cutter. The back end of the Cardinals' bullpen remains a work in progress.
Side note: Mike Matheny, master strategist, had a weird double switch in the seventh inning when he took out Matt Carpenter and inserted Matt Bowman. The pitcher's spot was still five spots away, but even stranger is that Bowman faced only one batter as Tyler Lyons started the eighth to face Yelich. There was no need to double-switch knowing you were going to remove Bowman after one batter anyway.
Carpenter's spot came up in the ninth. While the Cardinals were still up a run at the time, you would have preferred Carpenter batting instead of Greg Garcia -- who had entered in a second double switch when Leone came into the game.
Maybe Matheny wanted to take Carpenter out for defense, but I don't think a Yairo Munoz-Garcia alignment is better than Carpenter and Kolten Wong (who was removed from the game). Matheny continues to hurt the Cardinals with pointless double switches.
The balls were flying. So, umm, all this happened on Wednesday:
Christian Villanueva became the seventh player in Padres history to hit three home runs in a game in San Diego's 8-4 win over Colorado (joining Matt Davidson in the 3-Homer Club For Guys You Wouldn't Have Picked to Hit Three Home Runs). Of course we have to list the other Padres to do it: Nate Colbert, Steve Finley (twice, both in 1997), Ken Caminiti, Bret Boone, Phil Nevin and Hunter Renfroe (who did it last September). There were 14 three-homer games last season (including the four-homer games from Scooter Gennett and J.D. Martinez); the single-season mark is 22 in 2001.
Have yourself a game, @Villa_at_3B!
This was his 3️⃣rd home run tonight! pic.twitter.com/nEaL0wgVj6
— San Diego Padres (@Padres) April 4, 2018
Five teams that scored at least 10 runs. That happened on 16 days last season, but not until May 6.
Didi Gregorius homered twice and drove in eight runs.
Bryce Harper homered again, although the Braves walloped the Nationals 13-6. A.J. Cole started for the Nats and gave up 10 runs in 3 ⅔ innings. Given that he had a 5.88 ERA last season at Syracuse, there's no reason to expect Cole to be successful. The Nationals signed Jeremy Hellickson and he'll probably be up as soon as he gets stretched, but this is a team in need of a fifth starter.
David Peralta and Daniel Descalso both homered off of Clayton Kershaw, who lost his first two starts for the first time in his career. It was also the first time he'd allowed home runs to two different left-handed batters in the same game (Adam Dunn once homered twice off him).
And on the first day they booed.Giancarlo Stanton went 0-for-5 with five strikeouts in his Yankee Stadium debut. Yep, he heard the ol' Bronx cheers.
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