REPORTING FROM NEW YORK — The at-bat ended with a grounder to shortstop, a play about as ho-hum routine as baseball offers.
But nothing was ho hum or routine about Aroldis Chapman firing triple-digit fumes to the sport’s reigning phenomenon, Shohei Ohtani. Chapman was brought in for a four-out save and specifically to battle Ohtani, left-hander against left-hander, might against might.
“It was a big situation,” Ohtani said. “I really wanted to get a base hit. I wasn’t able to come through.”
It was one of the few moments the Angels rookie hasn’t seized in the past two months. Ohtani bounced out to end a near-mythical eighth-inning stare-down with Chapman in a game his team would lose to New York 2-1.
Ohtani stranded Justin Upton at second. It marked just the second time in nine at-bats with at least one runner in scoring position and two outs that Ohtani failed to produce a hit. Before meeting Chapman, his average during such circumstances was .875.
Of course, none of those previous eight at-bats had come against a pitcher throwing quite like this, Chapman’s final pitch to Ohtani reaching 101.9 mph. The slowest of the five fastballs he saw during the at-bat: 98.9.
“His pitches were really fast, really powerful,” said Ohtani, who fouled off one of Chapman’s fastballs deep down the left-field line. “Some of the contact I made I thought was pretty good contact.”
Angels reliever Jim Johnson surrendered a historic solo home run to Gleyber Torres in the seventh for the deciding run. Torres, 21, became the youngest American League player to ever homer in four consecutive games.
It was the first time Johnson had permitted a go-ahead home run in more than two years, or 136 appearances, according to the postgame notes.
The loss spoiled a fifth consecutive quality start by Andrew Heaney, who gave up one run and four hits in 6 1/3 innings. He was pulled after 97 pitches and just two batters before Torres homered.
Explaining that he was “just trying to be honest,” Heaney said afterward that he informed pitching coach Charles Nagy he was tiring before going out to start the seventh.
“I told Nags, ‘Hey, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit low in the gas tank, just mentally, physically,’ ” Heaney said. “Glad it ended that way and not with a hit or a homer.”
The game itself wouldn’t end without first presenting the epic Ohtani-Chapman showdown, one that capped Ohtani’s first official visit as a big-leaguer to Yankee Stadium and New York.
His pregame introduction and at-bats were greeted with predictable boos. Yankees fans not only were unhappy that he didn’t sign with New York, they also didn’t like Angels’ decision to not start him on the mound here Sunday.
That would have pitted Ohtani against fellow countryman Masahiro Tanaka, a pairing that has been anticipated since spring training.
Manager Mike Scioscia announced Thursday that Ohtani’s next mound appearance would be pushed back to manage his workload. Friday, Scioscia said Ohtani would pitch “sometime in the next week.”
Long before the game started, the New York Daily News published on its front page a photo of Ohtani with the screaming headline “What A Chicken! Japan star snubs Yanks, fears big city.”
A copy of the tabloid — the back-page headline announced “So It Ain’t Sho!” — found its way onto the chair in front of Ohtani’s locker.
“The newspaper, my interpreter (Ippei Mizuhara) brought it to me,” Ohtani said later, smiling. “I didn’t really want to see it, but I was kind of forced to.”
After grounding out in his final at-bat Friday, the headlines here might now turn even bolder.