Japan won the World Baseball Classic on Tuesday night, downing Team USA 3-2 in the championship game at loanDepot Park in Miami.
The game ended in dramatic fashion with Japan’s Shohei Ohtani striking out his MLB teammate Mike Trout with a full-count slider to seal Japan’s third title. Ohtani, who batted .435 and pitched to a 1.86 ERA, was also named the tournament’s most valuable player.
Ohtani pitching to Trout was something special – not only will the pair go down alongside baseball’s all-time greats, but they are also Los Angeles Angels teammates.
“It was the greatest situation facing the greatest hitter, so it was great,” Ohtani told ESPN.
The 28-year-old added: “I’ve seen Japan winning, and I just wanted to be part of it,” when speaking to MLB.
“I really appreciate that I was able to have the great experience. As I say, the next generation, the kids who are playing baseball, I was hoping that those people would like to play baseball. That would make me happy.”
Despite the defeat and strikeout, Trout quipped that Ohtani had “won round one.”
“That’s obviously fun, obviously didn’t come out the way I wanted to. You know, I think as a baseball [fan] everybody wanted to see it.”
Japan won all seven games it played in the tournament, its juggernaut offense scoring 53 runs in its first six contests. But Team USA pitchers limited Japan to just five hits. However Japan was spurred by solo home runs by Munetaka Murakami and Kazuma Okamoto.
Seven Japanese pitchers allowed nine US hits but Team USA was 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.
Team USA’s Trea Turner hit a solo home run off Shota Imanaga to open the scoring with one out in the top of the second. It was Turner’s fifth home run of the tournament, tying the WBC record.
But in the bottom half of the inning, Murakami, a two-time MVP in Japan, led off with a home run off Team USA starter Merrill Kelly to tie the score at 1-1.
Kelly failed to make it out of the second with Japan loading the bases with one out on singles by Okamoto and Sosuke Genda and a walk by No. 9 batter Yuhei Nakamura. Pitcher Aaron Loup came in for Team USA and gave up an RBI ground out to Lars Nootbaar before getting Kensuke Kondoh to fly out to center to end the inning with Japan ahead 2-1.
Japan made it 3-1 with a leadoff home run by Okamoto in the bottom of the fourth.
In the eighth inning, with Yu Darvish in to pitch for Japan, Kyle Schwarber homered on the 10th pitch of his at-bat to draw Team USA within one at 3-2.
Japan also won the WBC title in the first two editions of the tournament in 2006 and 2009.
The tournament was postponed from 2021 to 2023 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The next version of the World Baseball Classic will be held in 2026 at sites to be determined.