New York Mets pitcher Kodai Senga walks off the field...

New York Mets pitcher Kodai Senga walks off the field during the second inning against the Miami Marlins on Saturday. Credit: AP/Mary Altaffer

There were animated ghosts on the Mets’ gargantuan scoreboard Saturday afternoon.

A kid in the stands tacked a paper ghost onto the leftfield railing every time Kodai Senga struck out a Marlin. Senga’s own blue glove had a fork-wielding ghost on it, a kitschy reminder that this pitch is anything but friendly. There’s even going to be a glow-in-the-dark “ghost fork” giveaway at Citi Field later this year.

It’s easy to see why so many fans have taken to Senga, the gregarious Japanese import with a pitch and personality so marketable, you’d think Don Draper dreamed it up.

But as Senga mowed through the Marlins on Saturday — mixing his forkball, sweeper, high-90s fastball and cutter — it became increasingly clear that his abilities extend far beyond any gimmick. It extends, too, beyond the paper-thin concept that Senga’s early success is a product of unfamiliarity.

“There’s no surprise,” Buck Showalter said. “I found that if you’re good, you’re good. If you’re not, you’re not. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen somebody.”

Showalter doesn’t call it a ghost fork. He calls it a splitter because, essentially, that’s what it is. The Marlins have seen plenty of those, and they’ve even seen plenty of Senga’s version: This was the second time they’ve faced him, and on Saturday, he bested them again, allowing one run and three hits in six innings in the Mets’ 5-2 win. He struck out six and walked three.

After striking out eight in 5 1⁄3 innings to earn the win in Miami on April 2, Senga mixed in his sweeping slider more on Saturday — a reminder that he didn’t become one of the best Japanese pitchers of a generation by simply using one pitch.


“Being a pitcher that’s known for a single pitch, the forkball, I think it’s really important to mix things up,” he said through an interpreter. “I had the same problem in Japan, seeing a team multiple times . . . As the season goes on, hitters are going to get used to it. They’re going to see the forkball and they’re going to try to not swing at the forkball, so mixing in pitches is really important.”

And though the Marlins don’t look like a particularly good baseball team, they’re still professionals, and these early returns bode well for Senga’s sustained success. He didn’t beat them because they didn’t know him. He beat them because his pitching was better than their hitting, and that extended beyond the ghost fork, which made up 16 of his 90 pitches.

“It was fun, in a way, in the spring when he pitched a couple times without it,” Showalter said. “They kept waiting for him to throw the split and he never did, but it was good to see him pitch without it. I think he has a lot deeper repertoire than just that.”

Showalter says Senga has a “talented hand” — mixing up pressure points and changing the shape on his breaking balls so they present differently to hitters. The movement on the cutter and sweeper were effective in creating weak contact as the Marlins barreled only one pitch Saturday. He got eight groundouts and three flyouts.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of his ghost forks (excuse me, splitters) were thrown out of the strike zone. There, he relied on deception, and the Marlins cooperated, swinging on splitters outside of the zone 31% of the time. He struck out the side in the second, with each batter swinging through the ghost fork.

This doesn’t happen by chance, though, and it seems that there are other things in Senga’s arsenal, too: curiosity, experimentation and adaptation. The “growth mindset” was one of the things that made him so attractive to general manager Billy Eppler, and for good reason. He’s not just pitching in a new league with a different ball and different rules, he’s meeting new people, in a new city, trying new foods and speaking a new language, and is an entire world away from the built-in support network back in Japan.

“He’s got all of his family back over at home, and for him to perform the way he has and for him to have the poise and discipline that he has, it’s really special,” Pete Alonso said. “I can’t imagine what he’s going through because you can only experience it by doing . . . It’s been really fun to watch.”

Sure is. And it’s not because of any smoke and mirrors. And it’s not just good branding. In Flushing, the ghost — and everything that comes with it — is turning out to be very real.

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