OAKLAND, Calif. – Shohei Ohtani‘s Pitchcom machine failed him for a stretch in the first inning, so he had to improvise with a rookie catcher.
“It was tough because you want to go a different pitch, but you don’t have enough fingers,” O’Hoppe said in reference to Ohtani’s extensive repertoire. “We got through it, luckily.”
Ohtani struck out 10 over six scoreless innings in his season debut coming off the World Baseball Classic title before Oakland capitalized once he exited, with Aledmys Díaz rallying the Athletics on a tiebreaking single in the eighth for a 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Angels on Thursday night.
“We got a lot of guys on base and in scoring position, we just lacked that one big hit,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara.
Esteury Ruiz singled and Tony Kemp hit a tying double to start the rally against Aaron Loup (0-1).
The A’s hoped to get a chance once Ohtani’s day was done.
“He kind of dominated us a little bit with 10 punchouts,” Oakland manager Mark Kotsay said. “In doing that, we knew what we were up against tonight. We wanted to get Ohtani out of the game as soon as possible. Took a little bit longer than what we would have liked, but we got to the bullpen and we were able to take advantage of that.”
Ohtani called his own pitches using the Pitchcom technology as he also did during spring training given his range of offerings and the addition of the pitch clock this year. It started working again in the second inning.
O’Hoppe singled in the fifth to break up a scoreless game and put the Angels ahead. Then, Los Angeles right fielder Hunter Renfroe made an amazing no-look catch for the opening day highlight reels.
Ohtani raised his arms in delight from the mound and Renfroe could only grin ear to ear after robbing Oakland’s Jace Peterson with a defensive gem to start the bottom of the fifth. Running backward toward the wall, Renfroe reached his glove up and made the grab without his eyes tracking the ball and landed just in front of the warning track.
“WHAT WAS THAT” the Angels posted on Twitter with a shocked emoji face.
“There’s no normal catch about it. You catch it behind your head and backwards – that’s not great but you gotta do what you gotta do sometimes,” Renfroe said.
Ohtani – unfazed after walking Kemp on four pitches to start his outing – pumped his first when he retired Ramón Laureano on a 101-mph pitch to end the fourth. He walked three and allowed two hits.
Ohtani joined Dylan Cease, Gerrit Cole and Logan Webb as four pitchers with double-digit strikeouts, matching 1970 for the most on opening day since 1901.
New A’s reliever Trevor May (1-0) pitched the eighth for the win. Dany Jimenez earned the save after putting the tying run aboard on a walk.
Gio Urshela struck out swinging to end the seventh after a 10-pitch battle with Oakland reliever Domingo Acevedo.
The Angels extended their franchise-record losing streak on opening day to six straight, falling to 2-7 all-time in openers against the A’s and 0-6 in Oakland. The A’s have won five straight season openers in the series.
O’Hoppe, the club’s lone rookie on the opening day roster, became the youngest catcher to start opening day in franchise history at 23 years, 49 days. Buck Rodgers was the previous youngest at 23 years, 237 days old in 1962. O’Hoppe also became the first rookie catcher to start opening day for the Angels since Bengie Molina in 2000.
In the stands cheering O’Hoppe were his parents, Angela and Michael, twin sister Mel and a group of close friends.
RHP Shintaro Fujinami makes his major league debut for the A’s on Saturday. He and Ohtani were part of the same 2012 draft class in Japan. Fujinami pitched the past 10 seasons with the Central League’s Hanshin Tigers.
Los Angeles counters with lefty Patrick Sandoval.