ANAHEIM -- Though the Yankees knew they would not face Shohei Ohtani as a pitcher in this series, right-hander Masahiro Tanaka was looking forward to a potential matchup with Ohtani the hitter on Saturday, when Tanaka took the mound for New York, but Ohtani sprained his left ankle on Friday and sat out an 11-1 Yankees win that saw Tanaka strike out nine while allowing two hits in six innings.
The countrymen exchanged pleasantries in the Angel Stadium outfield before the series opener, with Ohtani seeking out Tanaka.
"I think he's doing something very special," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "I mean, look around. No one else is doing it."
Tanaka said he recalled facing Ohtani in 2013; batting for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, Ohtani was 0-for-11 with six strikeouts, a walk and a hit-by-pitch that year against Tanaka, who went 24-0 for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles before scoring a big contract with the Yankees.
The Yankees were considered a favorite landing spot for Ohtani his past winter, with general manager Brian Cashman even pleading for the standout pitcher/hitter while he dangled from a Connecticut rooftop one December morning.
Despite the team's best efforts, which included a midseason trek to Japan by club officials and an extensive video package meant to sell Ohtani on the allure of New York and the Yankees, the 23-year-old ultimately decided that the Angels presented the best fit for his services.
The Yankees received a firsthand look at the player they had coveted in the series opener, as Ohtani batted fifth as the designated hitter and hit a second-inning solo homer against right-hander Luis Severino. He turned his ankle running out a fifth inning ground out and was pinch-hit for in the seventh.
Manager Aaron Boone said before the game he has been intrigued by Ohtani's arrival, not only as an opponent, but as a fan.
"I was interested in the rumblings, the myth, the legend of it all," Boone said. "Obviously we were rumored in there to be one of the candidates, so even when I got hired I followed it a lot more closely. He's made a big splash. The stuff, both as a hitter and as a pitcher, he jumps off the screen. The power is very real. He's very athletic. He can really run.
"And as a pitcher, he's had a couple outings [where] it's like, 'Man, that's an electric fastball with a wipeout split.' I know he's caught Southern California here by storm. I think it's really good for the game, and hopefully he can get going again once we leave."
While Tanaka was aware of the Yankees' interest in Ohtani, he stopped short of saying that he was disappointed when Ohtani chose to sign elsewhere.
"Disappointed might not be the right word," Tanaka said. "How talented he is and how much of a plus he would be for the team, sure, I would have loved to have played with him."
Ohtani's decision was announced shortly after Boone was hired as the Yankees manager, and Boone joked that he wondered, "Is it something I did?" Meanwhile, Cashman quickly moved on to a Plan B, renewing talks to acquire outfielder Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins.
"One of the good things was Giancarlo became a reality right when I did get this job, so he's on our side," Boone said. "This is kind of coming home for him, too, even though he's up more in L.A. I'm just glad he's on our team."
Infielder Brandon Drury (severe migraines) could rejoin the big league roster on this road trip. He went 2-for-3 with a run scored for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in its 6-1 loss on Friday at Lehigh Valley.
Outfielder Clint Frazier (concussion) went 0-for-4 while serving as the designated hitter in his second Minor League rehab game for Class A Advanced Tampa on Friday. The Tarpons lost to Charlotte, 10-4.
Right-hander Tommy Kahnle (right shoulder tendinitis) is scheduled to resume playing catch this week, Boone said.