Two very good teams met to decide the World Baseball Classic on Tuesday night at loanDepot Park in Miami, but only one of them has Shohei Ohtani. The two-way superstar closed out the title game on the mound, pitching a scoreless ninth inning to finish off a 3-2 win over the United States, giving Japan the championship.
Japan has won three of the five World Baseball Classic tournaments, having also won in 2006 and 2009, the latter finishing at Dodger Stadium.
Ohtani started at designated hitter, and reached base twice in four plate appearances, with a walk and a single. He jogged back and forth from the bullpen to warm up, then entered the ninth inning with a one-run lead.
Jeff McNeil walked to open the frame, but Ohtani then got Mookie Betts to ground into a double play. That set up the matchup of Angels teammates, and the two best players in the world. Ohtani got Mike Trout to swing through two 100-mph fastballs, then struck him out on a 3-2 sweeping slider to end it.
Ohtani during the WBC hit .435/.606/.739, with a home run and four doubles. He also had a 1.86 ERA with 11 strikeouts in 9⅔ innings.
Both teams traded home runs in the second inning, hit by two recent heroes. Trea Turner’s solo shot was his fourth home run in his last three games, giving the U.S. a 1-0 lead. Munetaka Murakami, whose two-run double gave Japan the walk-off win Monday night over Mexico, hit a solo shot of his own in the bottom of the frame.
After Murakami’s home run, Japan loaded the bases with one out in the second, ending starter Merrill Kelly’s night. Lefty Aaron Loup induced a groundout and a flyout, stranding two of his three inherited runners.
First baseman Kazuma Okamota hit a solo shot off Kyle Freeland in the fourth, widening Japan’s lead to 3-1.
After scoring 21 runs in two games in the quarterfinals and semifinals, Team USA was stymied on offense, limited to just one run through seven innings by a quintet of excellent Japanese pitchers.
Then came Yu Darvish for the eighth, and Kyle Schwarber got him for a solo home run in a 10-pitch at-bat, pulling the U.S. within one.
Japan allowed only 18 runs in seven games during the tournament. Coupled with their WBC-best 56 runs on offense, it’s no wonder Japan was undefeated, and once again World Baseball Classic champs.
Betts had two singles on Tuesday, giving him five hits in his last two games. The Dodgers star started all seven games in right field for Team USA, and during the tournament hit .313/.324/.344 with seven runs scored.
Will Smith didn’t play in the title game, but caught three of the seven games in the WBC. He had two hits in 10 at-bats, a home run and a double, with two walks and three runs scored.