Shohei Ohtani of Team Japan pitches in the top of the ninth inning during World Baseball Classic Championship between United States and Japan at loanDepot park on March 21, 2023 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Gene Wang/Getty Images)
By Matthew Tallarini
World Baseball Network
MIAMI- Shohei Ohtani stepped into baseball lore after his brief but brilliant stint on the mound to give Japan their third World Baseball Classic championship, beating the United States 3-2 in the final to remain No. 1 in the World Baseball Softball Confederation rankings.
Japan improved to 3-1 all-time against the United States during the World Baseball Classic.
Shohei Ohtani won the MVP award for the 2023 World Baseball Classic, as he batted .435 playing in all seven of Japan’s games, hitting one home run, recording 8 RBI, drawing 10 walks, scoring nine runs, and rapping ten hits during the tournament along with closing out the championship game striking out his Los Angeles Angeles teammate Mike Trout to stamp Japan’s third world title.
Team USA starting pitcher Merrill Kelly went 1.1 innings, allowing three hits, two earned runs, walking two batters, and striking out one.
In the top of the second inning, the United States got on the board first when Trea Turner launched a solo home run – his fourth long ball in three games – to left field for the first run of the game.
During the top of the second inning, Japan’s Munetaka Murakami drove a solo home run to right field to tie the game at one a piece. A few batters after, Laars Nootbaar hit a ground ball to first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and Kazuma Okamoto scored the go-ahead run to go up 2-1.
Japan’s starting pitcher Shota Imanaga was lifted after pitching two innings, allowing four hits, one earned run, walking no batters, and striking out two.
Japan Manager Hideki Kuriyama strategically managed the course with his bullpen during last night’s game as he called upon relief pitcher Shosei Togo, who went two innings, no hits, no earned runs, walking two batters, and striking out two in his appearance.
In the bottom of fourth inning, Kazuma Okamoto unleashed a solo home run to left-center field to extend their lead to 3-1.
Japan’s bullpen held the two-run lead through the top of the eighth inning, not showing any trouble until the Kyle Schwarber drove a solo home run to right center field off relief pitcher Yu Darvish to cut the deficit to one run at 3-2.
During the top of the ninth inning, Ohtani entered the game from the bullpen to earn the save Japan win its third World Baseball Classic Championship. After he walked Jeff McNeil, Mookie Betts grounded into a 4-6-3 double play.
Mike Trout was the final hope for Team USA as he dug to the plate to face his Los Angeles Angels teammate, a dream match-up fans wanted to see. Trout struck out on a 87.2 mph sweeper pitch to end the game.
Japan’s pitching staff allowed just nine hits, two earned runs, walking four batters, and striking out eight in the championship effort.
“The young pitchers were able to pitch against those good American players. So of course when you look, the American players are probably difficult to adjust to the smaller body of the Japanese pitchers,” said Kuriyama. “But I think it was a very precious experience for the Japanese pitchers and also all the kids in Japan who are watching that might think, oh, that’s really cool, and they might want to make up their mind to want to be baseball players.”