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Japan tops defending champion US 3-2, wins World Baseball Classic

2023 World Baseball Classic: Championship Team USA vs. Team Japan

Shohei Ohtani, far right, hugs teammate Ukio Shuto as Team Japan celebrates its 3-2 victory over Team USA to win the World Baseball Classic title.

Photo by Rob Tringali/WBCI/MLB via Getty Images

MIAMI — Shohei Ohtani came out of the bullpen to support Los Angeles Angels teammate Mike Trout for the final out in a matchup the entire baseball world wanted to see, giving Japan a 3-2 win over defending champion United States on Tuesday night for its first World Baseball Classic title since 2009. .

“This is the best moment of my life,” Ohtani said through a translator.

Ohtani, a two-way star who has captivated fans across two continents, was named the WBC’s MVP. He clutched the award to his chest as he struck out Trout and won the trophy.

“Whether I struck him out or he hit me, I didn’t want to have any regrets. I wanted to make my best pitch,” Ohtani said.

He did, and then some.

Trying to protect a razor-thin edge, with two outs and nobody on base, Ohtani flashed 100 mph heat to swing at Trout and miss on two fastballs. With the count up, Trout ended the ninth inning by swinging a sharp slider.

“I think every baseball fan wanted to see it. I’ve been answering questions about it for the last month and a half,” Trout said.

“Did you think it was going to end any other way?” she said.

Final out.

What a moment for Shohei Ohtani and Team Japan 🇯🇵🏆 pic.twitter.com/8DdTDhkryk

— Fox Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) March 22, 2023

RJ Anderson of CBSSports.com called it “the match everyone wanted to see … a battle between arguably the best two players in the world.”

Ohtani beat out an infield single in the seventh inning as a designated hitter before walking down the left-field line in Japan’s bullpen to warm up for his third mound appearance of the tournament.

After leading major league batting champion Jeff McNeil to start the ninth, Ohtani grounded Mookie Betts into a double play.

It brought Trout, the U.S. captain and three-time MVP.

“I saw him take a big deep breath to try to control his emotions,” Team USA manager Mark DeRosa said. “I can’t imagine at that moment, two of the best players on the planet locking horns as teammates in that place.”

Ohtani wound up with the save. His only other save came in a postseason playoff game in Japan in 2016.

“He’s got nasty stuff,” Trout said. “He finally threw me a good pitch.”

Just didn’t want the last DeRosa.

“I was hoping it was going to go our way with Mikey popping against Ohtani,” he said.

“The whole world saw Ohtani come in, big place, fight. That’s how it was scripted. I just wish it had been different,” he said.

He added: “But the baseball world won tonight.”

Celebrating Champions. 🏆 #WorldBaseballClassic pic.twitter.com/tVvFouZzCx

— World Baseball Classic (@WBCBaseball) March 22, 2023

Ohtani batted .435 with one homer, four doubles, eight RBIs and 10 walks as Japan joined the Dominican Republic in 2013 to become the only undefeated champions of baseball’s premier national team tournament. Ohtani, the 2021 AL MVP, was 2-0 on the mound with one save and a 1.86 ERA, striking out 11 in 9 2/3 innings.

“What he’s doing in the game is probably what 90% of the guys in that clubhouse have done in Little League or youth tournaments, and he’s been able to pull it off on the biggest stage,” DeRosa said. “He’s a unicorn for the sport. I think other guys will try it, but I don’t think they’re going to do it at his level.”

Japan went 7-0 and outscored opponents 56-18 to reach the finals for the first time since winning the first two WBCs in 2006 and 2009. No other country has won the title more than once.

Japan led 3-2 as Munetaka Murakami and Kazuma Okamoto headed home.

Trea Turner hit his record-tying fifth home run of the tournament to lead the U.S. in the second, and Kyle Schwarber homered off Yu Darvish in the eighth to pull the Americans within one run.

It was the second straight major title for the Japanese, who defeated the United States 2-0 in Yokohama for the 2021 Olympic gold medal. Japan used top players in that tournament while the United States sent released major leaguers and top prospects.

Turner led the U.S. in the second inning with a drive to left against Shota Imanaga (1-0), tying South Korea’s Seung-yup Lee for the most in the WBC in 2006. It lit up a sellout crowd of 36,098 — fans were given wristbands with colored lights that flickered.

Murakami, 23, already a two-time Central League MVP, tied the score on the first pitch of the bottom half when Merrill Kelly (0-1) elevated a fastball. Murakami drove it 432 feet into the right-field upper deck at 115.1 mph.

Murakami’s game-ending double gave Japan a 6-5 lead over Mexico in Monday night’s semifinal, and Nick Martinez’s third-inning homer advanced Japan to the 2021 gold medal game.

Japan loaded the bases at second with singles by Okamoto and Sosuke Gender and a walk to Yuhei Nakamura. Lars Knutber, the first non-Japanese-born player for the Samurai Warriors, with a run-scoring groundout to Aaron Loop for a 2-1 lead.

Okamoto extended the lead in the fourth when he sent a flat slider from Kyle Freeland to the wall in left-center.

Japan was outshot 9-5 as Imanaga combined with six relievers to hold the USA to 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position. The 29-year-old left-hander and Shosei Togo each pitched two innings, while Hiroto Takahashi, Hiromi Itoh and Taisei Ota each got three outs, Ota escaped two-on, no-out trouble by retiring Trout on a flyout and getting Paul. Goldschmidt would ground into a double play.

Trout and Ohtani hugged behind the batting cages during pregame workouts, then held their country’s flags as they led their teams toward home plate in single file during the introductions, Trout down the down-field line and Ohtani in left.

Thousands of fans arrived hours early to watch Ohtani take batting practice and cheered when he hit a drive from the video board above the center’s second deck.

Trout hit .296 in the tournament with one homer, seven RBIs and 12 strikeouts.

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