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Ohtani hits Angels' 3rd straight HR off Kikuchi

Halos’ DH notches 2 hits in 1st MLB matchup vs. fellow countryman
@RhettBollinger
June 9, 2019

ANAHEIM -- Shohei Ohtani got the better of his fellow countryman, Yusei Kikuchi, on Saturday, as he singled in the first inning and capped a run of three straight homers off Kikuchi in the fourth to lead the Angels to a lopsided, 12-3 win over the Mariners at Angel Stadium.

ANAHEIM -- Shohei Ohtani got the better of his fellow countryman, Yusei Kikuchi, on Saturday, as he singled in the first inning and capped a run of three straight homers off Kikuchi in the fourth to lead the Angels to a lopsided, 12-3 win over the Mariners at Angel Stadium.

Ohtani, who attended the same high school as Kikuchi in Japan but was not in the lineup when the lefty pitched against the Angels in Seattle on May 30, won the first battle between the two with an infield single in the opening frame. Ohtani grounded out in his second chance, but the third encounter was more eventful. After Tommy La Stella and Mike Trout homered to open the fourth, Ohtani launched a solo shot of his own to left for his sixth blast of the year.

Box score

“It kind of went the way I was hoping, quite frankly," Angels manager Brad Ausmus said of Ohtani's first matchup with Kikuchi. "He's obviously very even keel, but it seemed like -- I don't want to call it extra motivation because he's a pretty motivated guy, but it seemed like there was something extra there."

Ohtani, normally reserved, was noticeably pumped up after the homer, flexing his arm muscles on the way back to the dugout, and once again after he was in the dugout. Ohtani explained that he was mimicking Kole Calhoun, who had a similar celebration after a homer earlier this week.

"That was the most excited I've seen him on a homer," Trout said. "I would be, too, if I went to the same high school as [Kikuchi]. He was pumped up. It was pretty cool."

Kikuchi walked the next batter, Albert Pujols, to end the streak, which marked the first time the Angels hit back-to-back-to-back homers since Sept. 3, 2016, at Seattle, when Calhoun, Trout and Pujols went deep.

“I'm sure the crowd wanted the fourth one,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “AP was up, so it was a huge possibility. I was excited myself. Unfortunately, he got the walk."

Ohtani's first at-bat against Kikuchi began with Kikuchi throwing a 94-mph fastball up and in to Ohtani before he swung through a 93-mph fastball. Ohtani then pulled a slider to second base, and Shed Long nearly made an impressive play, but the throw to first wasn't in time.

"The catcher was set up outside,” Ohtani said. “There was no intention there, so I have no negative feelings towards him."

On the third pitch, Ohtani raced to first with a sprint speed of 29.3 feet per second (anything 30.0 is considered the most elite, per Statcast) in 4.14 seconds, marking his second fastest home-to-first time on a single this season.

"My first hit was kind of lucky,” Ohtani said. “I didn't get all of it. But I still beat it out. I got more at-bats and saw more pitches against him, and I was able to adjust, and felt better."

Ohtani’s hit helped spark a two-out rally for the Angels, as Pujols followed with a double before Kevan Smith scored both Ohtani and Pujols with a single to right. Cesar Puello brought in a third run with an RBI single after an error by shortstop Dylan Moore. Puello also had a solid night, going 3-for-4 with a two-run homer.

Ohtani, 24, and Kikuchi, 27, both went to Hanamaki Higashi High School in Iwate Prefecture in north Japan, but never together, as Kikuchi graduated the year before Ohtani began high school. But the two know each other well and faced each other twice while playing in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball League. Ohtani went 2-for-5 with a double and three strikeouts against Kikuchi in Japan.

Kikuchi didn’t speak specifically about his matchup with Ohtani after the game, but he was disappointed after allowing a career-high seven runs (six earned) over 3 1/3 innings to see his ERA rise to 4.99.

“They hit three home runs off me today. I didn’t like what happened out there today, including Ohtani,” Kikuchi said through interpreter Jason Novak. “I want to make sure next time I go out there and face the Angels that I make sure I shut them down and do well for the team.”

The hype of their first MLB matchup was of incredible intrigue overseas, though. According to Angels PR, roughly 80 members of the Japanese media were in attendance on Saturday.

"I'm very proud of the fact that we get to face each other at the highest level in baseball,” Ohtani said. “But more than myself, I'm probably happiest for my coach back home, my high school coach [Hiroshi Sasaki]. He's probably the most proud."

Rhett Bollinger covers the Angels for MLB.com. He previously covered the Twins from 2011-18. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.