Ohtani 'sent a message' with homer No. 26

June 29th, 2021

NEW YORK -- It seems that is reaching new milestones every day, and the two-way superstar's latest came Monday with his first career hit at Yankee Stadium, a no-doubt first-inning homer that left the bat at 117.2 mph and gave the Angels a quick lead.

The drive off Yankees righty Michael King was Ohtani's 26th of the season, pulling him into a tie with Toronto's Vladimir Guerrero Jr. for the Major League lead. It also set the tone for the Angels in a 5-3 win in the series opener.

"That definitely sent a message," manager Joe Maddon said. "He's so easy to speak to during the game. He never gets upset. He never loses focus. He's able to turn the page to the next one. But yeah, that was just the right way to start his trip to New York, with him hitting a home run."

It was the hardest-hit homer by an Angels player since Statcast began tracking in 2015, topping Ohtani's own record from earlier this season. He previously set the record on May 25, when he hit a 117 mph homer off Rangers right-hander Brett de Gues. He also hit a double that left the bat at 119 mph off Royals righty Scott Barlow on April 12.

He was also coming off a game that saw him double, triple, homer and steal a base in a win over the Rays on Sunday.

"He's a different breed," Maddon said before Monday's game. "The way he goes about his business. And you could talk about all these other things, but I think the one aspect of him is, he's so self-confident. And he's so humble at the same time. I think it really works well for him."

Ohtani, a finalist at designated hitter for next month's All-Star Game and also confirmed to participate in the T-Mobile Home Run Derby, had previously gone 0-for-9 in his career at Yankee Stadium, with all of those at-bats coming in 2018. The Yankees had recruited Ohtani hard before that season, but he ultimately chose to sign with the Angels.

So it hurt even more for the Yankees to see him deliver an early blow in the Bronx. He worked the count full and didn’t miss a 3-2 curveball from King, who lamented that he left it up enough for Ohtani to drive it out of the park.

"The execution was bad,” King said. “I wanted to bounce it. But I also wanted to make it competitive. I didn't want a take there. And it was one of those where he hadn't seen my curveball yet. So I just said, ‘I'm going to rip a curveball.’ He's a good strike curveball hitter or strike breaking-ball hitter in general. So I did not want to leave it in the strike zone, but I wanted to make it competitive, and it just hung."

Ohtani is also slated to make his 12th start of the season against the Yankees on Wednesday; he is 3-1 with a 2.58 ERA with 82 strikeouts in 59 1/3 innings. He’s never pitched at the Stadium, as his scheduled start there in 2018 was scratched because of elbow concerns.

But there are no such injury concerns this year, and he’s batting .276/.360/.670 with a Major League-leading 47 extra-base hits in 73 games. He also hit nine homers over his last 12 games, with 15 RBIs over that stretch.

Ohtani is expected to both hit and pitch on Wednesday, and Maddon said before Monday’s game that even he’s looking forward to watching what Ohtani can do on the big stage in the Big Apple.

"I know he's gonna enjoy it," Maddon said. "He will be ready for it. It's one of those things that he embraces. He definitely likes these kinds of moments. He's got a slow heartbeat, a lot of self-confidence. I just love the way he goes about his business. So I'm looking forward to watching it myself. As of right now, he will hit and pitch on that day. So we'll see how it plays out."