Members of Team Japan celebrate in the ninth inning during the 2023 World Baseball Classic Semifinal game between Team Mexico and Team Japan at loanDepot Park on Monday, March 20, 2023 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mary DeCicco/WBCI/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
By Matthew Tallarini
World Baseball Network
Japan received a gigantic welcome home after winning their third World Baseball Classic.
Shohei Ohtani came on in the ninth inning on Tuesday night, earning the save and facing his Los Angeles Angels teammate, Mike Trout, striking him out to end the game and close out Japan’s undefeated run to the 2023 World Baseball Classic title.
Players who play in Nippon Professional Baseball arrived on a chartered flight while four major leaguers, tournament MVP Ohtani, Yu Darvish, Lars Nootbar, and Masataka Yoshida rejoined their MLB clubs to finish spring training.
“We played difficult international games that could have gone either way, but every player fulfilled his role each time to grind out wins,” skipper Hideki Kuriyama said at a news conference according to Japan Times. “We had wonderful games and a wonderful team. I can only say thank you to them and the fans. … We could feel the excitement building back in Japan (from Miami).”
Japan also defended their spot in the World Baseball Softball Confederation’s World Baseball Ranking, where Japan remains No. 1. The ranking comes on the strength of Japan winning the gold medal during the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics and their cumulative success in WBSC-sanctioned senior events.
The WBSC Premier 12 tournament will be held next in November 2024 and will feature the top 12 ranked teams in the world. Japan won the Premier 12 tournament in 2019 with Nippon Professional Baseball players, and will likely bring top tier talent in these events.
Japan’s infielder Munetaka Murakami and starting pitcher Roki Sasaski held their own during the 2023 World Baseball Classic after having stellar seasons in NPB prior to the tournament. Murakami hit .231 in 26 at-bats with six hits, one home run, six RBI, and nine walks in the World Baseball Classic.
Murakami won the NPB Triple Crown with the Yakult Swallows last season and hit 56 home runs, breaking Sadaharu Oh’s record of 55 during the 1964 season. Sasaki recorded a 3.52 ERA in two starts, pitching 7.2 innings, allowing seven hits, walking two batters, and striking out seven at the WBC.
Last season with the Chiba Lotte Marines, Sasaki pitched the first perfect game in Nippon Professional Baseball since 1994. He stayed perfect into his next game, until Shuhei Fukuda ripped a base hit in the eighth inning, ending his streak to 52 consecutive batters retired. Sasaki had 33 strikeouts against 52 batters.
A quick glance on how Japan can really run the table with being the number one ranked team in the World Baseball Softball Confederation rankings a lot can be determined with how they can set forth cruise control down the line under the global stage.
With Japan’s roster mostly coming back to play in Nippon Professional Baseball, a lot of major league international scouts and national cross checkers will keep tabs on the elite talent overseas prior to the Major League Baseball posting period, which will begin in the middle of December 2013.
The Nippon Professional Baseball circuit will start on March 30 when the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters will begin the season against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles at 6:30 p.m. JST/5:30 a.m. EDT.