Japan Takes Home World Baseball Classic Championship in Thrilling Victory Over United States

Photo credit:© Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
Tyson Shushkewich
1 year ago
It’s a tale of the tape between two top baseball players in the world and their respective nations: Mike Trout and Team USA facing off against Shohei Ohtani and Team Japan in the World Baseball Classic Championship. After taking home the World Baseball Classic trophy back in 2017, the United States was looking to become back-to-back champions, similar to Japan capturing the 2006 and 2009 tournament titles.
Both teams had battled to get to the finals. The USA almost fell to Venezuela in the quarterfinals before a grand slam by Trea Turner in the top of the eighth inning put the team ahead before steamrolling Cuba in the semifinal. Japan rolled through their quarterfinal matchup against Team Italy before it came down to the wire in the semifinal against Mexico, with a back-and-forth affair going right into the ninth inning where Japan rallied against closer Giovanny Gallegos, with Munetaka Murakami hitting a double to centre and walking off into the finals.
For the United States, Arizona Diamondbacks starter Merrill Kelly was handed the ball while team Japan sent Yokohama DeNA BayStars southpaw Shōta Imanaga, with Japan being the home team.

Back and Forth to Open the World Baseball Classic Final

Mike Trout started the party for the USA, dropping a bloop single into short right field and diving into second base with his speed. His teammates would leave him stranded, with Paul Goldschmidt striking out and Nolan Arenado grounding out to first base. Kelly got off to a hot start for the United States, getting two quick outs before allowing Shohei Ohtani to reach base on a walk, although he too was left on base.
Trea Turner continued his WBC heroics, smashing a solo home run to left field in the top of the second inning, crushing a four-seam fastball that left LoanDepot Park at 107 MPH off the bat and over the fence at 406 feet. Japan would counter in the bottom half, as Murakami would smash a Kelly fastball to right centre field, taking the offering 432 feet and tying the game at 1-1.
Kelly would struggle in the second inning and would get pulled in favour of left-hander and former Blue Jays reliever Aaron Loup, coming into the game with one out and bases loaded. Lars Nootbar would bring in a run on a groundball force out to first but Loup would limit the damage to just one run, making it 2-1 for Japan.
Colorado Rockies southpaw Kyle Freeland would take over for the USA in the third inning and was cruising along until the bottom of the fourth when he gave up a solo home run to Kazuma Okamoto, giving Japan a 3-1 lead. The United States appeared to be threatening in the top of the fifth, with Mookie Betts beating a groundball single with zero outs, but right-hander Hiroto Takahashi was able to strikeout Trout and Goldschmidt before eventually getting Kyle Schwarber to get a flyball out to end the inning.
The score would remain 3-1 until the top of the eighth inning, although there was a tense moment in the seventh when USA reliever Jason Adam lost control of the zone and allowed three consecutive walks to load the bases, later escaping the jam. Japan brought in veteran starter Yu Darvish to help close out the final two innings but after a ten-pitch at-bat against Kyle Schwarber, the Phillies slugger took advantage of a hanging splitter and produced a solo jack to make it 3-2. USA would counter in the bottom half of the eighth with Brewers closer Devin Williams, who pitched a scoreless inning.

Mike Trout vs. Shohei Ohtani

With the game down to its final three outs, Japan went to their big gun in Shohei Ohtani, who was making his first relief appearance since 2016 when he was still pitching in the Nippon Professional Baseball league. While he walked Jeff McNeil to start the ninth, he was able to get Mookie Betts to ground out into a double play, setting the stage for one of the most dramatic moments in World Baseball Classic history: Mike Trout vs. Shohei Ohtani, two of the best in the game facing off with the championship on the line.
After a fierce back and forth that saw Ohtani blow two 100 MPH fastballs by his Angels teammate for swinging strikes, Trout had battled to a full count and was looking to tie the game with one swing. It was Ohtani who would come out on top, as the right-hander mixed up speeds and got Trout to swing overtop of a breaking ball, ending the game and giving Japan the win.
In what was one of the most exciting tournaments in recent memory, Japan takes home their third World Baseball Classic title and ran a clean sweep in the tournament, failing to drop a single game on their quest to win the championship, dethroning the United States. Ohtani would take home MVP honours for his play on both sides of the ball and would be named to the All-WBC team alongside teammate Masataka Yoshida.


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