2023-03-26 · 2 min read · WBC/Baseball
Japan wins over Team USA

AFP-JIJI | AP/Marta Lavandier

Entering the ninth inning against Japan in the semifinals, Mexico’s closer Giovanny Gallegos had been unhittable. All tournament long, pure domination from St. Louis’ best bullpen arm. Then, three outs away from a finals appearance - something Mexico’s never done - a double, a walk, and another double completed Japan’s comeback. A 6-5 win, capping off an all-timer in the category of international baseball play.
Then came the United States in all its offensively glory, with Arizona Diamondback Merrill Kelly on the mound. What was originally expected to be Yu Darvish for Japan ended up being left-hander Shota Imanaga - the first arm in an eventual “bullpen-style day”.
A solo homer by Trea Turner in the top of the 2nd gave the United States a quick 1-0 lead, though it didn’t last long. In the bottom half, Kelly struggled. A mega-blast by the now-infamous Munetaka Morakami tied the game at one, followed by a single, a flyout, another single, and a walk. With the bases loaded and one out, ex-Blue Jay Aaron Loup took over on the mound and, all things considered, limited the damage rather effectively. A Lars Nootbar groundout gave Japan a 2-1 lead, and a Kensuke Kondoh flyout ended the inning.
The score remained 2-1 until the bottom of the 4th, when another solo home run - this time by Kazuma Okamoto - extended the lead to 3-1 off of Kyle Freeland. Pitching changes a plenty, Japan took their two-run lead into the top of the eighth when Yu Darvish took the mound. With one out, Kyle Schwarber blasted yet another solo homer to cut the lead to 3-2. A four-up, three-down bottom of the 8th by Devin Williams, and off to the ninth it went - a one-run game between the world’s two baseball superpowers. And so the time had finally come, it was Sho-time.
Jeff McNeil, Mookie Betts, and Mike Trout against Shohei Ohtani, to decide the World Baseball Classic - in and of itself, a tremendous statement to make given the rumours of the Angels perhaps limiting Ohtani’s usage. But here we were, eight quality innings of baseball later, about to watch the proverbial cherry be placed on top.
A leadoff walk from McNeil, because who doesn’t like a little stress? Then, in a rare turn of events that almost never happens, a double-play ball by Mookie Betts. If the stereotype that the world revels in the misery of any United States’ sports team remains true, a collective cheer swept the planet at that moment. Moreover, it allowed the world to get a historic at-bat; teammates Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani - two of the greatest baseball players ever - with two out in the ninth.
A full count with four straight 100mph+ fastballs, and a sweeping slider for a swing and a miss. 3-2 Japan, their third WBC Championship. A perfect ending to a perfect WBC. And an ironic twist of fate, perhaps, that the US’ otherworldly offense was effectively shut down by arms from all around the NPB.
At peak, roughly 97% of Japanese television screens watched the finals - a number so incredible, so incomprehensible, yet should surprise no one. A western bias has been entrenched in the sport of baseball for so long, but why? ‘America’s Pastime’ is nothing without talent from all around the world - namely, in this case, Japan. Never will a time come that a country will be as devoted to baseball like Japan is, a fact that should be celebrated - not rivaled.
There are so many storylines to pick out, not just from this game but from the tournament as a whole, but as Mexico’s Manager Benji Gil aptly put it following their loss in the semifinals against Japan, “the world of baseball won”. The WBC is good for the sport, and it’s time we recognize that as fact - not opinion. And, where else will Trout face Ohtani? Exactly.
Sports Tree Profile

By: Gus Cousins


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