Ohtani (2 H, RBI, SB) an instant spark for Dodgers in long-awaited debut

March 20th, 2024

SEOUL -- From beginning to end, the atmosphere at the Gocheok Sky Dome was electric on Wednesday. The pregame concert on the field set the tone for the rest of the night. The cheerleaders kept that energy going throughout the game and in-between innings, dancing and starting chants.

But even in an atmosphere as loud as the one the Dodgers and Padres played in front of, the sound from the crowd was different any time was announced. The anticipation as he took the plate in all five of his at-bats was palpable. Even his foul balls drew the loudest reactions in Los Angeles' stunning 5-2 victory.

Wednesday marked the event baseball fans around the world have been waiting for ever since Ohtani signed a 10-year, $700 million deal this winter with the Dodgers. East Coasters set alarms at 6 a.m. to not only welcome the baseball season, but also watch Ohtani wear Dodger Blue for the first time in his career. Fans in Los Angeles finally came to the realization that Ohtani will be a Dodger for the next decade.

And Ohtani’s first game as a Dodger was a success, as the two-time unanimous American League Most Valuable Player went 2-for-5 with an RBI single and stolen base in the season-opening win.

“I’m not as nervous when I’m hitting as when I’m pitching. So I was able to be relaxed at the plate,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “The biggest thing is that we got that ‘W’ and the way we got it, coming back late in the game ... that proves that we’re a really good team.”

Ohtani’s first at-bat as a Dodger ended in a fielder’s choice after Mookie Betts drew a walk to start the frame. Ohtani showed off his speed sprinting down the first-base line, beating out the throw on what would’ve likely been a double play for most hitters.

His second at bat was the most impressive and one the Dodgers will point to if Ohtani goes on a dominant run at the plate. On the third pitch of the at bat, Padres right-hander Yu Darvish tried to sneak a 1-1 cutter inside to Ohtani. Instead, Ohtani cleared his hips and pulled it well foul down the right-field line.

It wasn’t just your routine foul ball, however. It drew the loudest reaction of the game, and for good reason. The exit velocity on that swing was clocked at 119.2 mph off the bat, easily the hardest-hit ball in the game. Two pitches later, Ohtani smoked a single, his first with Los Angeles, to right field off Darvish with an exit velocity of 112.3 mph, the hardest-hit ball put in play on Wednesday.

“Sometimes with hitters, one swing gets you back,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “In the spring, he was getting some hits. But I really feel that one swing where he pulled it in the air foul, he really took a good swing and that bled into that at-bat where he lined a ball into right field for a hit and had another big base hit later in the game. Just a good night overall from Shohei.”

Outside of making his Dodgers debut, Ohtani also enjoyed facing Darvish for the first time in his career. The two Team Japan superstars in the World Baseball Classic have known each other dating back to their days in Japan. Ohtani’s night ultimately ended with an RBI single in the Dodgers’ four-run eighth inning.

“Looking at the game, I got an out from him, and he got a hit from me,” Darvish said. “Maybe it worked out good for both of us, I guess.”

When you walked through the concourse at the Gocheok Sky Dome on Wednesday, the large majority of jerseys being worn by fans in attendance were Ohtani’s No. 17. Even on a team full of stars, Ohtani continues to draw the most attention.

On the field, it was finally ShoTime for Ohtani and the Dodgers.