The World Baseball Classic came to a close on Tuesday night with the USA facing Japan in the final, winner-takes-all game.
Both teams were red-hot coming into Tuesday’s final, with Japan beating Mexico in their semi-final in a back-and-forth game decided by a walk-off double to give Japan the edge 6-5. Team USA had an easier semifinal against Cuba, where the offense powered them to a dominant 14-2 win.
Going into Tuesday’s final, Japan had won 2 World Baseball Classic titles to Team USA’s 1 win, which came in the last iteration of the tournament in 2017. With two of the most potent teams in the world facing off for the championship, the stage was set for a must-watch game.
Hot-hitting Trea Turner got USA on the board in the second inning with a solo blast 406 feet to left field off Shota Imanaga. It was his third homer in the last three games and a record-tying fifth in a single WBC. Munetaka Murakami responded with his own homer in the bottom of the frame – a solo shot that flew 432 feet to right-center field. Shortly thereafter, Nootbar gave Japan the edge by driving in Kazuma Okamoto on a groundout against reliever Aaron Loup. Kazuma Okamoto then gave Japan the 3-1 lead with a solo homer in the fourth.
The game froze up at 3-1 until Kyle Shwarber launched Team USA back in the game with a solo home run in the 8th inning to make it 3-2 for Japan. Then on came Ohtani, the Angels’ superstar to pitch the final inning for Japan. Proving his prowess as one of the best baseball players in the world, he battled Team USA’s stars in the top of the 9th inning, forcing Tim Anderson to ground-out on a double play that made Japan one out away from winning their 3rd title.
In an iconic at-bat, Ohtani pitched against his teammate and USA superstar Mike Trout, who fought his way through to earn a full 3-2 count, paving the way for the game to be decided by the final pitch. Ohtani threw a stunning slider at 3-2 to strike out Mike Trout and claim the trophy.
Undefeated Japan topped reigning champ USA for its first title since winning back-to-back titles in 2006 and ’09. Japan is the only team to clinch multiple championships and they improved to a 30-8 all-time record in the WBC. Shohei Ohtani won MVP for his efforts throughout the tournament to seal perhaps the most memorable ever World Baseball Classic.