Japan won its third World Baseball Classic championship, beating Team USA 3-2 at loanDepot Park in Miami on Tuesday.
Shohei Ohtani was summoned in the ninth inning to record the save and struck out his Los Angeles Angels teammate Mike Trout for the final out. He allowed a leadoff walk to Jeff McNeil to start the frame but got Mookie Betts to ground out in a double play in the next at-bat to clear the bases. Trout represented the tying run.
“I can’t believe (Trout) was actually the last batter of the game,” Ohtani said through a translator.
“I’ve played with him for several years now, and I’ve seen him the most,” the 2021 AL MVP continued. “I hit next to him in the lineup, I’m the one that knows how great he is – not just as a person but as a baseball player – so I had to give my best to be able to get him out. … It was like a storybook ending, a storybook situation.”
Ohtani has been a teammate of Trout since the 2018 season when the two-way phenom won the AL Rookie of the Year award. The two superstars have four AL MVP awards and 12 All-Star nods combined.
“As a baseball fan, everybody wanted to see it,” Trout said, according to Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe.
“He won Round 1,” he added, alluding to the next World Baseball Classic, scheduled for 2026.
The United States was attempting to defend its 2017 title. Japan, which went a perfect 7-0 in this year’s tournament, also won the championship in 2006 and 2009. And Japan was initially only the third favourite amongst the Japanese bookmakers that offer baseball betting, but after all, the Samurai Blue successfully proved the prediction wrong.
“I was hoping it would end a little bit different with Mike popping one, but the baseball world won tonight,” United States manager Mark DeRosa said following the loss, according to Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post.
Shota Imanaga earned the win in the start, allowing one run on four hits over two innings while striking out two.
Munetaka Murakami initially got Japan on the board with a game-tying solo homer in the second inning. Murakami is fresh off becoming NPB’s single-season home run king as the first Japanese player in the league to hit 56 homers, surpassing Sadaharu Oh’s record set in 1964.
Kazuma Okamoto hit a one-run bomb in the fourth inning that put Japan in front for good.
Merrill Kelly, starting for the U.S., was stuck with the loss. The Arizona Diamondbacks righty allowed two runs on three hits and two walks over 1 1/3 frames while striking out one.
Ohtani was named the 2023 WBC MVP. He joins Daisuke Matsuzaka (2006, 2009) as the only Japanese players to win the honor.
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