Ohtani had the first big moment, and it proved to be the 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-field wall for his 29th home run of the season.
The shot propelled the Angels to a two-run lead over the American League East-leading Yankees en route to a 4-3 victory to open the three-game series and a nine-game homestand. It was the Angels’ fourth consecutive win.
“I’m able to see the ball pretty good, and it’s leading to relatively good results,” Ohtani said through a team representative.
Judge, who had been intentionally walked two times, showed off his talents in the eighth inning.
With one out and none on, Judge took Ryan Tepera’s 1-and-1 curveball into the waterfall in center field for a home run. It was homer No. 50 this season for the star slugger who is chasing Roger Maris‘ Yankees single-season record of 61 home runs.
Asked what he would think about with the home run ball, Judge said: “I’ll be thinking about a 4-3 loss. Wish it could’ve been a little sweeter with a victory.”
On Monday, Ohtani and Judge were greeted by “M-V-P” chants from an Angel Stadium crowd that featured many pinstriped jerseys. The announced attendance was 44,537.
“Of course it’s important for a player to be able to have a season like this,” Ohtani said when asked how much he’s paying attention to the AL most-valuable-player race between him and Judge. “I want to be able to keep this pace and continue to play in games.”
Their first at-bats were uneventful. In the first inning, Judge grounded out and Ohtani grounded into a double play.
The Yankees caused enough commotion in the third inning (two men on and a 1-1 score) and fifth (one on, two outs, 2-2 score) to prompt Angels starter Jose Suarez to intentionally walk Judge both times. Boos rang out in response. But the moves proved to be smart for Suarez, who got the final out both times against Andrew Benintendi.
“You try not to think about it because it’s a team game,” Judge said of the walks, “and I’ve got one of the hottest hitters behind me in Benintendi.
“I know I’ve got to lock it in from the first pitch I see because it might be the best pitch I see. It’s fun. You like having that, I wouldn’t say pressure, but that expectation. That’s what it’s about, trying to lead the team and help them win.”
Ohtani, meanwhile, completed his second at-bat with a swinging strikeout on Montas’ 1-and-2 splitter. His third at-bat added to the reigning AL MVP’s lore as a two-way talent as a hitter and pitcher.
Asked about his thoughts on the AL MVP race, Suarez said: “Judge has a lot of home runs for real, but I’m going for Ohtani, going to cheer for my teammate.”
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’s tying the score 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 got New York its first two runs.
Ohtani and Judge won’t face each other as pitcher and batter over the remaining two games this series in Anaheim.
The Angels already have said who their pick for MVP would be: Ohtani. On Monday, the Yankees chimed in with their thoughts.
Yankees second baseman Gleyber Torres didn’t mince words when he declared Judge the rightful winner. Nestor Cortes, an injured starting pitcher for New York, deliberated a little more.
“I think what Judge is doing now is pretty incredible and how he’s carrying this first-place team,” Cortes said. “Ohtani, he’s doing a lot of good things, but [the Angels are] not in first place.”
Yankees manager Aaron Boone, answering a question about what he thinks of Judge’s season, compared it to the ones Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire had in 1998, when the National League MVP conversations centered on those players. Boone also described Judge as a great all-around player for his contributions in the outfield, his power bat and his speed on the basepaths.
Those kinds of descriptions also are used by the Angels about Ohtani.
Said Angels interim manager Phil Nevin before Monday’s game: “I told you guys, as much as I love the guy across the way, I mean, what our guy does, until somebody comes in to do those things offensively and then pitch on the mound the way he does — as far as value to this game and this league, I think it’s Shohei.”
Arte Moreno’s move
Nevin was asked whether last week’s news about Angels owner Arte Moreno exploring a sale of the team was affecting his players. He replied: “Certainly doesn’t affect the players. … [A possible sale is] not going to get done by the time we’re done here this year.”
He also reiterated his support for Moreno.
“Arte’s been a great owner. He’s been great to me,” Nevin continued. “He’s brought superstar players in here. They’ve had so many to put a name to this organization, whether it be Shohei and Trout, [Albert] Pujols and the guys that have been here before.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.