SEATTLE — The chorus of boos cascaded through the stands and onto Safeco Field as Los Angeles Angels two-way man Shohei Ohtani stepped on the mound to begin his warmup pitches. This wasn’t a surprise. Seattle Mariners fans booed Ohtani Friday night as well. He called it “awkward.”
From the moment he stepped foot in their field wearing red and gray instead of blue and white, Mariners’ fans were ready to let loose. Ohtani was supposed to sign with Seattle, as Ichiro Suzuki did 17 seasons ago. He was supposed to be the one to break the team’s lengthy playoff drought, which stretches all the way back to 2001 — Ichiro’s rookie season — they thought. He was absolutely not supposed to sign with one of the Mariners’ biggest rivals.
So they booed loudly when Ohtani’s name rang out over the stadium speakers. They let him know he signed with the wrong team.
The boos eventually died down and Ohtani went to work. And over the next six-plus innings, barely a peep was heard from the Mariners’ fans in the stands. Ohtani silenced them.
The 23-year-old righty showed electric stuff during his fifth major-league start. Ohtani baffled the Mariners over six innings with a mix of 98 mph fastballs, diving splitters, curves that broke like Wiffle balls and a couple deadly sliders.
It wasn’t until the seventh inning that the Mariners’ crowd found their voice again. One of Ohtani’s sliders caught too much of the plate and Ryon Healy sent it into the left field stands for a two-run home run.
After walking the next hitter, Ohtani’s day was done. He allowed two runs on six hits over six innings. Ohtani walked two and struck out six during the outing.
During Ohtani’s courtship in the offseason, the Mariners were one of the few teams to be named finalists by Ohtani and his agent. While it’s unclear where they finished behind the Angels, the Mariners believed they had a legitimate shot to sign him. General manager Jerry Dipoto freed up international bonus pool money so Seattle could offer Ohtani the most money of any team only to discover that wasn’t what he desired.
Seattle’s aggressive pursuit of Ohtani had no impact on his motivation for this start.
“I’m very thankful this team was pursuing me,” Ohtani said through a translator after the game. “It’s very humbling to hear that. Of course I want to pitch good, and it’s not just [against] this team, but every other team that was pursuing me to show them that they weren’t wrong.”
The seventh inning was the only time Ohtani looked vulnerable. Prior to that, the Mariners had a tough time with him. Seattle managed a few hard hit balls against him that resulted in deep fly outs, and Kyle Seager tagged him for two hits, but that was about it. Until that seventh inning home run, only one Mariner — Ben Gamel — threatened to reach third base. He even made it there briefly until a review showed he was unable to beat Mike Trout’s throw from center.
As Ohtani walked off the field with a four-run lead, the boos rained down just as hard as before. After six strong innings, they didn’t have the same impact. They felt like the only thing Mariners’ fans could do to comfort themselves after seeing what could have been.
The Mariners did threaten in the seventh, but failed to push any additional runs across the plate. The Angels would go on to extend their lead by two runs in the ninth, winning the contest 8-2. With the win, Ohtani improved to 3-1 to start his major-league career.
As for the boos. This time around, they didn’t have much of an impact on Ohtani.
“The booing, that didn’t faze me at all,” he said. “The way I left the game, I gave up two runs and a walk like that. It’s something I need to work on. I was really frustrated with myself the way I ended the game.”
The few seconds when Ohtani walked off the field in the seventh was one of the few times Mariners’ fans could celebrate Sunday. He was finally disappointed in his performance.
But that was fleeting. Less than an hour later, the Angels sent Seattle fans home dejected, while Ohtani’s manager and catcher complimented his performance from the winning clubhouse.
For Mariners’ fans, the disappointment over this loss will last much longer. Ohtani has already frustrated them for months.
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