The showdown between baseball titans Shohei Ohtani and Aaron Judge brought fans into Angel Stadium for Monday night’s game between the Angels and the New York Yankees.
Ohtani had the first big moment and it turned out to be the game-winning hit.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, with Mike Trout on base after hitting a single, Ohtani took Frankie Montas’ 1-and-2 splitter over the right-center wall for his 29th home run of the season. The shot pushed the Angels to a two-run lead over the American League East-leading Yankees en route to a 4-3 victory to open the series. It was the Angels’ fourth straight victory.
Judge, who had been intentionally walked twice, showed his talents in the eighth.
With one out and nobody on, Judge took Ryan Tepera’s 1-and-1 curveball to cascade into center for a home run. It was homer No. 50 for the star slugger who is chasing Roger Maris’ Yankees single-season record of 61 home runs.
On Monday, Ohtani and Judge were greeted by “MVP” chants from the striped-jersey crowd at Angel Stadium. Those announced were 44,537.
Their first at-bats were uneventful. In the first inning, Judge struck out and Ohtani grounded into a double play.
The Yankees caused enough trouble in the third inning (two men on, 1-1 score) and the fifth (one on, two outs, 2-2 score) to prompt Angels starter José Suarez to intentionally walk Judge and both times. Boss yelled in response. But the moves proved smart for Suarez, who took the final both times against Andrew Ben-
Ohtani, meanwhile, finished his second at-bat with a swinging strikeout on Montas’ 1-and-2 splitter. His third at-bat added to his cult status as a pitcher and power hitter.
Luis Rengifo and Mike Ford each hit a solo home run for the Angels, with Rengifo’s homer putting the Angels up 1-0 in the second inning and Ford tying the game at 2 in the fourth. A run-scoring sacrifice bunt by DJ LeMahieu in the third inning and a home run by Anthony Rizzo in the fourth gave New York its first two runs.
Ohtani and Judge will not face each other as a pitcher and batter for the remaining two games in Anaheim. The battle between the AL’s most valuable players continues on Tuesday night.
The Angels have already said who their MVP pick would be: Ohtani. On Monday, the Yankees started coming up with their thoughts.
Yankee second baseman Gleyber Torres didn’t mince words when he declared Judge the rightful winner. Nestor Cortes, an injured starting pitcher for New York, thought a little more.
“I think what Judge is doing now is pretty incredible and how he’s carrying this first team,” Cortes said. “Ohtani, he does a lot of good things, but [the Angels are] not in the first place. So I think what Aaron Judge is doing has a lot of value.”
Yankees manager Aaron Boone, in response to a question about his opinion of Judge’s season, compared it to those of Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire in 1998, when National League MVP conversations focused on those players . Boone also described Judge as an outstanding all-around player for his contributions in the outfield, his power bat and his speed on the basepaths.
Those kinds of descriptions are also used by the Angels for Ohtani.
Angels interim manager Phil Nevin said before Monday’s game: “I told you, as much as I love the guy in front, I mean what our guy does, until somebody comes in and does those things offensively and then he pitches on the embankment. the way he does it – in terms of the value of this game and this championship, I think it’s Shohei.”
Nevin was asked if last week’s news about Angels owner Arte Moreno exploring selling the team was affecting his players. He replied: “It certainly doesn’t affect the players. … [A possible sale is] it’s not going to end until we’re done here this year.”
He also reiterated his support for Moreno.
“Arte was an excellent owner. He was great with me,” Nevin continued.
“He brought superstar players here. They had so much to give a name to this organization, whether it was Shohei and Trout, [Albert] Pujols and the guys that have been here before.”
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.