Japan Beats U.S. in World Baseball finale

Japan baseball team | Image by Megan Briggs

Japan won the 2023 World Baseball Classic with a thrilling 3-2 win over the United States in a matchup of two of the world’s best baseball teams as the two-week tournament ended Tuesday night.

After an unbeaten tournament, Japan was the home team, while the United States served as the away team with one loss.

Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Trea Turner got things started with his fifth home run of the tournament to give the U.S. a 1-0 lead in the top of the second inning.

Japan’s Munetaka Murakami tied the game with a solo shot in the bottom of the inning, and Japan would break the tie in the fourth after a Lars Nootbaar ground out scored one, and a Kazuma Okamoto blast to center field made it a two-run game.

As the United States struggled to put together a rally, Philadelphia Phillies slugger Kyle Schwarber, one of the most powerful hitters in baseball, stepped up to the plate to face former Texas Ranger Yu Darvish in the eighth inning.

As the announcer began to explain Schwarber’s numbers against Darvish in his career, the outfielder drew a 2-1 count and continued to foul off pitches.

With a 2-2 count, Schwarber fouled off six in a row before timing up a splitter and sending it over the wall and into the second deck in right-center.

The United States was within a run with an inning and two-thirds to be played.

Once Devin Williams shut the door on Japan in the eighth, the U.S. had three outs to tie the game.

Japan turned to 2021 American League MVP Shohei Ohtani to face Jeff McNeil, Mookie Betts, and Mike Trout, perhaps the best American hitter in baseball.

Betts bounced into a double play with McNeil on base, leaving Trout against Ohtani, his teammate on the Los Angeles Angels, as the final hope for the United States.

After four consecutive fastballs that all clocked in around 100 miles per hour, Ohtani got Trout to swing through a breaking ball on the edge of the strike zone in a full count to give Japan its first World Baseball Classic title since 2009.

“I felt like that was exactly according to game plan with me and Nakamura, the catcher,” Ohtani told the MLB Network through a translator after the game. “I made the pitch right on the corner. It was the best pitch I made.

“Playing with Trout for a long time, I probably know best how great a baseball player he is, so I had to give 120% to get him out.”

Japan has won three of the five tournaments since the event began in 2006, with the United States (2017) and the Dominican Republic (2013) being the only other countries to win.

Ohtani was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

Japan finished the tournament without a loss, while the U.S. suffered a loss to Mexico during pool play.

The next World Baseball Classic will be held in 2026.

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