Shohei Ohtani fans his Angels teammate as Japan tops U.S. 3-2 for baseball title
MIAMI — Shohei Ohtani emerged from the bullpen and fanned Los Angeles Angels teammate Mike Trout for the final out in the matchup the whole baseball world wanted to see, leading Japan over the defending champion United States 3-2 Tuesday night for its first World Baseball Classic title since 2009.
"This is the best moment in my life," Ohtani said through a translator.
Ohtani, the two-way star who has captivated fans across two continents, was voted MVP of the WBC. He clutched the award against his chest, having clinched the trophy by striking out Trout.
"Whether I got him out or he got a hit off me, I didn't want to make any regrets. I wanted to make my best pitch," Ohtani said.
He did, and then some.
Trying to protect a razor-thin edge, with two outs and nobody on base, Ohtani flashed 100 mph heat in getting Trout to swing and miss at two fastballs. With the count full, Trout waved at a sharp slider to end the ninth inning.
"I think every baseball fan wanted to see that. I've been answering questions about it for the last month and a half," Trout said.
"Did you think it was going to end in any other way?" he said.
Ohtani beat out an infield single in the seventh inning as a designated hitter before walking down the left-field line to Japan's bullpen to warm up for his third mound appearance of the tournament.
After walking big league batting champion Jeff McNeil to begin the ninth, Ohtani got Mookie Betts to ground into a double play.
That brought up Trout, the U.S. captain and a three-time MVP.
"I saw him take a big deep breath to try and control his emotions," Team USA manager Mark DeRosa said. "I can't even imagine being in that moment, the two best players on the planet locking horns as teammates in that spot."
Ohtani wound up with a save. His only other save came in a Japan postseason playoff game in 2016.
"He's got nasty stuff," Trout said. "He threw me a good pitch at the end."
Just not the ending DeRosa wanted.
"I was hoping it was going to go our way with Mikey popping one against Ohtani," he said.
"The whole world got to see Ohtani come in, big spot, battling. It's kind of how it was kind of scripted. I just wish it would have went different," he said.
He added: "But the baseball world won tonight."
Ohtani batted .435 with one homer, four doubles, eight RBIs and 10 walks as Japan joined the Dominican Republic in 2013 to become the only unbeaten champions of baseball's premier national team tournament. Ohtani, the 2021 AL MVP was 2-0 with a save and a 1.86 ERA on the mound, striking out 11 in 9 2/3 innings.
"What he's doing in the game is what probably 90% of the guys in that clubhouse did in Little League or in youth tournaments, and he's able to pull it off on the biggest stages," DeRosa said. "He is a unicorn to the sport. I think other guys will try it, but I don't think they're going to do it to his level."
Japan went 7-0 and outscored opponents 56-18, reaching the final for the first time since winning the first two WBCs in 2006 and 2009. No other nation has won the title more than once.
Munetaka Murakami and Kazuma Okamoto homered as Japan built a 3-2 lead.
Trea Turner put the U.S. ahead in the second with his record-tying fifth home run of the tournament and Kyle Schwarber pulled the Americans within a run when he went deep in the eighth off Yu Darvish.
It was the second straight major title for the Japanese, who beat the U.S. 2-0 in Yokohama for the 2021 Olympic gold medal. Japan used top players in that tournament while the U.S. sent released major leaguers and top prospects.
Turner put the U.S. ahead in the second inning with a drive to left against Shota Imanaga (1-0), tying South Korea's Seung Yuop Lee in 2006 for the most in a WBC. That lit up a sellout crowd of 36,098 — fans were given wristbands with colored lights that flickered.
Murakami, at 23 already a two-time Central League MVP, tied the score on the first pitch of the bottom half when Merrill Kelly (0-1) elevated a fastball. Murakami drove it at 115.1 mph into the right-field upper deck, 432 feet away.
Murakami's game-ending double lifted Japan over Mexico 6-5 in Monday night's semifinal and his third-inning homer off Nick Martinez put Japan ahead in the 2021 gold medal game.
Japan loaded the bases in the second on singles by Okamoto and Sosuke Genda, and a walk to Yuhei Nakamura. Lars Nootbaar, the first non-Japanese-born player to appear for the Samurai Warriors, followed with a run-scoring groundout off Aaron Loup for a 2-1 lead.
Okamoto boosted the lead in the fourth when he sent a flat slider from Kyle Freeland over the wall in left-center.
Japan was outhit 9-5 as Imanaga combined with six relievers to hold the U.S. to 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position. The 29-year-old left-hander and Shosei Togo pitched two innings each, Hiroto Takahashi, Hiromi Itoh and Taisei Ota got three outs each, with Ota escaping two-on, no-outs trouble by retiring Trout on a flyout and getting Paul Goldschmidt to ground into a double play.
Trout and Ohtani hugged behind the batting cage during pregame workouts, then held their nation's flag while leading their teams toward home plate in single file during the introductions, Trout down the right-field line and Ohtani in left.
Several thousand fans had arrived hours early to watch Ohtani take batting practice and applauded when he hit a drive off the video board above the second deck in center.
Trout hit .296 in the tournament with one homer, seven RBIs and 12 strikeouts.
Japan gets $3 million in prize money and the U.S. receives $1.7 million. Half of each goes to players, the other half to the national baseball federaton.
Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.