Munetaka Murakami of Team Japan celebrates with teammates after hitting a two-run double to defeat Team Mexico 6-5 in the World Baseball Classic Semifinals at loanDepot park on March 20, 2023 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images)
By Matthew Tallarini
World Baseball Network
MIAMI- Japan remains undefeated in the 2023 World Baseball Classic after beating Mexico 6-5 on a two-run double by Munetaka Murakami to complete a comeback from a three-run deficit and earn a berth in a World Baseball Classic championship game for the third time.
During the top of the fourth inning, Mexico struck first when Luis Urias drove a three-run home run to left center field as Rowdy Tellez and Isaac Paredes come in to score to go up 3-0.
Patrick Sandoval started the fifth inning and got Kazuma Okamoto to fly out to left for the first out, but was starting to lose his control, giving up a single to Tetsuto Yamada and then walking Sosuke Genda. Gil brought in Jose Urquidy to replace Sandoval.
A few batters later, Japan’s Kensuke Kondoh drove a deep fly ball to left field and Mexico star Randy Arozarena tracked the ball all the way to the wall, leaping and reaching to rob a game tying three-run home run from Kondoh. He stood in stunned disbelief that he caught the ball, giving a mildly-humorous look to television cameras before he heading back to the dugout.
Urquidy pitched in to the seventh, going 2.1 innings and allowing two hits, no earned runs, walking one batter, and striking out two before JoJo Romero came into the game from the bullpen.
Japan eventually got on the board during the bottom of the seventh when Masataka Yoshida unleashed a three-run home run down the right field line, with Kondoh and Shohei Ohtani scoring to tie the game up at three.
In the top of the eighth inning, Mexico broke the tie when Alex Verdugo drove a double to center field and Arozarena came into score to go up 4-3.
Kuriyama went to his bullpen once again, as Atsuki Yuasa came into the game to replace Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Yamamoto went 3.1 innings allowing three hits, two earned runs, walking two batters and struck out three in relief.
A few batters after Yuasa entered the game, Isaac Paredes drove a sharp ground ball single to left field, scoring Jaren Duranfor a 5-3 lead, but Joey Meneses was cut out at the plate for the final out of the inning.
Mexico went to their bullpen to start the bottom of the eighth inning as Jesus Cruz replaced Romero in attempt to bridge the final six outs of the game.
Japan once again looked to climbed back in the game to keep their championship hopes alive as Kazuma Okamoto drew a hit by pitch start the inning. The next batters, Tetsuto Yamada sat back and ripped a single to left field placing Okamaoto’s replacement Takum Nakano who pitch ran from him to second base.
With pinch runner Takumu Nakano on second ad Kazuma Okamoto on first, Kosuke Genda used a sacrifice bunt to move the runners over in to scoring position. The next batter, Hotaka Yamakawa, who pinch hit for Takuya Kai, drove a sacrifice fly to left field to score Nakano and make it 5-4.
In the bottom of the ninth inning, Gil called upon Giovanny Gallegos to shut the door for Mexico. Ohtani led off the inning with a sharp line drive to center field to start the rally. The next batter Yoshida drew a walk to give Japan runners at first and second with nobody out withs Munetaka Murakami at bat.
Murakami drove a double to center field aand Ohtani and Ukyo Shuto came in to score the tying and winning runs, sending Japan on to the championship game tonight at 7 p.m. on Fox Sports 1 iagainst the United States in quest for their third World Baseball Classic title.
“Well, of course, that was the last inning, bottom of the 9th. Of course he hit the first ball and made it to the second base. I think he gave us all the power and emotion. So I think the reason why we were able to win this game of the battle. There are so many — we lost so many bases, but many players were able to score and, finally, it came to my turn,” Murakami said. “So I think all the batting lineup really worked and everything really worked well. So I’m really appreciative of the people surrounding me.” Murakami on how he adjusted during the final at bat of the game.”
Japan will have a huge task to work with tonight in the Championship Game going up against starting pitcher Merrill Kelly for the United States. Japan will put Shota Imanaga out to start the Championship Game in attempt to shut down Team USA’s offense.