Exactly a century later, Ohtani follows Ruth with HR at Yankee Stadium

April 19th, 2023

NEW YORK -- It was exactly 100 years ago on Tuesday that old Yankee Stadium, or “The House that Ruth Built,” opened its doors in the Bronx. Babe Ruth, baseball’s last true two-way superstar, christened that ballpark with an Opening Day homer.

So it was only fitting that a century later, the game’s only two-way phenom, , crushed a two-run homer in the first inning across the street at new Yankee Stadium to lead the Angels to a 5-2 win in the series opener. Ohtani went 1-for-3 and also swiped his first bag of the season, giving him his 15th career game with a homer and a stolen base.

“I knew it was the 100th anniversary, but I didn’t know Babe homered,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “It’s a beautiful field with passionate fans. I always look forward to playing here and have fun playing here.”

Ohtani, the 2021 AL MVP and last year’s runner-up to the Yankees’ Aaron Judge, helped get the Angels on the board in a hurry against right-hander Clarke Schmidt. After Taylor Ward reached on a leadoff double, Ohtani demolished a 2-0 sweeper over the heart of the plate. It left the bat at a Statcast-projected 116.7 mph and went 391 feet to right field.

“It was amazing,” said fellow superstar , who was in the on-deck circle. “That’s what he does. That ball was hit really, really well.”

It was Ohtani’s fourth homer of the season and his fourth homer at Yankee Stadium in 11 career games. Ohtani hasn’t hit for much average in the Bronx, batting .153 (6-for-39), but has made up for it in power.

Angels manager Phil Nevin, though, said he doesn’t believe Ohtani finds any extra inspiration playing under the bright lights of New York.

“He thrives in any atmosphere,” Nevin said. “You could put him on a backfield and no one's watching and he’ll have the same competitive nature as he does in front of 40,000 at Yankee Stadium. That's what makes him special. Makes him one of the best in the game.”

Ohtani’s homer also came after he put on a show during batting practice, launching several long balls above the batter’s eye in center field. It’s something he rarely does on the field, but he’s considering doing it more this season. Whatever he’s been doing has been working yet again, as he’s off to another strong start, hitting .300/.382/.533 with 11 RBIs in 16 games.

“I just wanted to see my ball flight,” Ohtani said. “I’m not able to see the way the ball flies in the cage. I think I’m going to do that decently often from here on out.”

Yankees manager Aaron Boone said before the game that it was surprisingly Ohtani’s speed that stands out to him the most, and Ohtani promptly showed off his wheels in the fifth after reaching base on catcher interference. He stole second and then went to third on a throwing error from catcher Kyle Higashioka. That led directly to a run scoring, as brought him home with a sacrifice fly to center field.

“He definitely has the capability to steal a lot of bases,” Nevin said. “There’s some sense that we want to protect him a little bit and keep him out of harm's way. But in a game like that, if there’s an opportunity to take one, I’m going to let him go.”

Ohtani’s impressive performance came a day after he threw two innings against the Red Sox before an 85-minute rain delay forced him to come out of the game. Ohtani didn’t allow a hit but surrendered a run, as he walked one and threw two wild pitches in the first inning. But he’s still off to an incredible start on the mound this season, posting an 0.86 ERA with 27 strikeouts in 21 innings.

Ohtani threw just 31 pitches in his outing, so his next one will now be moved up to Friday against the Royals at Angel Stadium. He was originally slated to start against Kansas City on Sunday, which would’ve been on his sixth day, but the Angels want to maximize as many starts as they can out of him this season.

“When he’s available to pitch, we’re going to pitch him,” Nevin said. “We’ll get him back out there. It also makes sense when you line it up for travel reasons.”