Japan took down the United States 3-2 in a thrilling championship game last Tuesday at loanDepot Park in Miami to win their third World Baseball Classic.
Japan and the U.S. were the two clear favorites to win the tournament, as both offenses simply overpowered their opponents on the way to the championship game. Japan scored a massive 53 runs through their first six games, and the U.S. scored 49.
However, these two offensive juggernauts could only manage five combined runs on Tuesday night, with Japan being held to only five hits. The U.S. got the majority of the chances but went 0-7 with runners in scoring position.
MLB star Trea Turner put the first run on the board in the top of the second inning with a solo home run to give the U.S. the lead. Turner tied a WBC record with his fifth longball of the tournament.
Japan would answer in the bottom half of the inning, when two-time Nippon Professional Baseball MVP Munetaka Murakami hit a solo blast of his own to even the score.
The U.S. decided to pull starting pitcher Merrill Kelley after he loaded the bases in the same inning. Aaron Loup came in to relieve Kelley and gave up a sacrifice groundout to Lars Nootbaar before getting out of the inning with Japan leading 2-1.
Japan stretched their lead to 3-1 in the bottom of the fourth with another solo shot by Kazuma Okamoto.
The score would stay that way until the top of the eighth inning, when slugger Kyle Schwarber brought the U.S. within one with a solo home run off Yu Darvish. Schwarber worked Darvish for nine pitches before he finally went yard.
Unfortunately for the U.S., that was all the offense they could muster, as they were unable to continue the late rally. The game came to an end when Japanese multi-talented phenom Shohei Ohtani struck out his MLB teammate Mike Trout on a full-count breaking ball.
This is Japan’s third WBC championship, as they have dominated the event since its conception in 2006. The U.S. and Dominican Republic each have one title and are the only other teams to win the tournament.
Two of the world’s greatest players facing off against one another proved to be a cinematic ending for baseball’s premier national showcase.
“It was the greatest situation facing the greatest hitter, so it was great,” Ohtani said in an ESPN interview.
Ohtani was named the WBC MVP after batting an inhuman .435 and giving up only a 1.86 ERA against the best baseball talent the world has to offer.
The MLB world is already preparing for Ohtani’s presumed departure from the Los Angeles Angels in free agency next offseason. His dual-threat talent is enough to boost many teams into World Series contention.
Mike Trout, who has spent his entire career with the Angels as one of the league’s top all-around talents, has yet to win a playoff game despite being widely considered baseball’s best player for much of the 2010s.
The next World Baseball Classic is scheduled for 2026, where Trout and Ohtani are likely to meet again.