Ohtani welcomed warmly, helps Betts, Freeman lead Dodgers in home debut

ByAlden Gonzalez ESPN logo
Friday, March 29, 2024

LOS ANGELES -- Shohei Ohtani was pleased with the quality of his at-bats and "grateful" for the warm reception he received from the sold-out Dodger Stadium crowd on Opening Day -- but he came away from it all with one regret.

"I was the only guy who couldn't hit a homer," Ohtani, speaking through an interpreter, said with a slight chuckle after the Los Angeles Dodgers breezed to a 7-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday afternoon.

Ohtani was referring to the superstar trio atop the Dodgers' lineup, of which he is at the center. Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman, the two hitters who flank Ohtani, each homered off Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas in the third inning. But all three of them placed their imprint on the Dodgers' home debut, combining for 5 hits, 4 walks and 4 RBIs while scoring each of the Dodgers' first six runs.

Through the season's first three games -- the team opened with a two-game series against the San Diego Padres in South Korea last week -- Betts, Ohtani and Freeman are slashing .455/.578/.788 while driving in 13 of the Dodgers' 23 runs.

"There's been a lot of expectations on the outside," Betts said, "but internally nobody expects anything more than what Freddie, Mookie, Shohei and everybody down the lineup can do. We're just going to do what we can."

Betts, Ohtani and Freeman mark the fifth time in major league history that three players who finished within the top three in voting for the previous year's MVP have begun the ensuing season on the same team, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Ohtani was the unanimous choice in the American League for the second time in three years in 2023; Betts and Freeman finished second and third, respectively, in National League voting.

Betts began the game with a walk, then moved to third on a double by Ohtani -- who thought Betts would attempt to score but instead got caught between second and third base -- and scored on Freeman's single. Two innings later, Betts smacked a homer to left, Ohtani drew a walk and Freeman homered to right-center field, giving the Dodgers five runs before recording their seventh out.

"I think in any discussion you can argue that they're the best hitter in baseball," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of Betts, Ohtani and Freeman. "When you talk about those three guys, and you lump another handful or 10 players, they're in that conversation. We're fortunate to have three at the top of the order. The first word that comes to mind is 'daunting.'"

"Daunting" can also be used to describe the events of the past week for Ohtani, amid a betting scandal centered on at least $4.5 million in wire transfers from his bank account to a bookmaking operation that is under federal investigation. Ohtani's longtime interpreter and good friend, Ippei Mizuhara, was fired by the Dodgers after Ohtani's camp alleged that he transferred the money without Ohtani's knowledge, which Ohtani repeated while addressing the matter Monday. Three days later, Ohtani emerged from the center-field fence and strolled down a long blue carpet to punctuate opening ceremonies. He was cheered more loudly than any of his teammates. A similar reception awaited him as he prepared to take his first at-bat.

"Obviously I've been here before as an [opposing] player, so it was a little intimidating," Ohtani said through his new interpreter, Dodgers manager of performance operations Will Ireton. "But I'm very grateful for the fans. And there were a lot of them."

Dodger Stadium was stuffed with 52,667 fans for one of the most anticipated home openers in recent memory, a reaction to an offseason spending spree that totaled more than $1.2 billion. The focus was on Ohtani and his place within what has been casually referred to as the Big Three. But Tyler Glasnow, another major addition this winter, pitched six innings of one-run ball. And other hitters -- specifically Will Smith, Max Muncy, Teoscar Hernandez and James Outman, making up the 4 to 7 spots -- also made contributions.

Freeman, speaking from a home clubhouse overflowing with media largely because of Ohtani, wanted to make that clear.

"It's not just the top of the order," Freeman said. "There's nine guys in this lineup. I will deflect that for every single question from here on out. It is nine guys in this lineup. We did a good job today."

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