Shota Imanaga of Japan throws during the Japan Workout and press conference at loanDepot park on March 19, 2023 in Miami, Florida. He’s projected to start the championship game against Team USA.(Photo by Masterpress – Samurai Japan/SAMURAI JAPAN via Getty Images)
By Leif Skodnick
World Baseball Network
MIAMI- On Tuesday night, Japan will meet Team USA at loanDepot Park for the World Baseball Classic title.
They’ll play nine innings (or perhaps more) for all the marbles, with a number of compelling storylines.
Either Mike Trout or Shohei Ohtani will win a championship.
Team USA could be the second team to win back-to-back WBC championships, while Japan has the chance to win a third WBC title.
And if Japan wins, they’d be just the second team to go undefeated through the World Baseball Classic, joining the 2013 Dominican Republic team in accomplishing that feat.
It was indicated on Monday that Yu Darvish would start for Japan, though Tuesday morning, Shoto Imanaga was listed as Japan’s probable starter by MLB.com. Imanaga has pitched most of his career with Yokohama in Nippon Professional Baseball, appearing in 143 games and posting a WHIP of 1.129 over seven seasons in Japan’s top circuit.
Darvish, who pitches for Major League Baseball’s San Diego Padres, has made two appearances and one start in the World Baseball Classic, pitching five total innings and allowing five hits, three earned runs, two walks, and striking out one batter.
USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported that Arizona DiamondBacks pitcher Merrill Kelly will start for Team USA. Kelly, 34, has never appeared in a postseason game in Major League Baseball, and appeared in one game during the 2023 World Baseball Classic, throwing three innings in a pool play game against Colombia, allowing four hits, two earned runs, two walks, and striking out one batter.
Japan defeated Mexico 6-5 on a two-run double in the bottom of the ninth by Munetaka Murakami that scored Shohei Ohtani and Masataka Yoshida, completing a comeback from a 3-0 deficit. Yoshida, who will play with Major League Baseball’s Boston Red Sox this season, hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the seventh to tie the game.
Team USA laid the boots to Cuba in the semifinal, defeating their Caribbean rival 14-2 in a game that was essentially over in the early going, but with no mercy rule in the semifinals, was played to its completion. First baseman Paul Goldschmidt and shortstop Trea Turner each had four RBI, with Turner socking two home runs and Goldschmidt blasting one, along with a two-run single, to power the American victory.
First pitch for the 2023 World Baseball Classic championship game is scheduled for 7 p.m., and the game will be televised in the United States on Fox Sports 1.