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Japan defeats Team USA 3-2 to claim third WBC title

United States offense falls short, Ohtani shuts down Trout to seal the victory

Japan celebrates its third WBC title after Shohei Ohtani struck out Mike Trout.

In a thriller to claim its third World Baseball Classic championship, Japan held on to defeat the United States, 3-2, as the only team to go undefeated with (7-0) in the tournament. Hollywood could not have written a better script than Shohei Ohtani coming in to close in the ninth, sealing the championship by striking out teammate and former MVP, Mike Trout, on a nasty slider to end the game.

It seemed like the United States were seeing the ball well early on in the game, with Mike Trout doubling in the first inning, but the offense was otherwise unsuccessful. Trea Turner came up in the second and decided he might as well keep the team on his back, smashing a solo shot to left field to break the ice, 1-0, and giving the entire world deja vu for the third time in two days.

J.T. Realmuto and Tim Anderson tried to start another rally in the second, but Mookie Betts wasn’t able to bring anyone around, minimizing the damage for Japanese starter, Shōta Imanaga. Imanaga ultimately gave up four hits, walked none, and struck out two, with the only run he gave up being the Turner bomb. He finished the WBC with a 3.00 ERA, a really impressive performance all around.

Merrill Kelly looked solid for Team USA in the first, working through some dangerous batters, and leaving the inning unscathed outside of walking Shohei Ohtani — can you blame him? The second inning took a turn for the worse, as Munetaka Murakami homered to center to tie the game at one. Kelly would get into a deeper jam after that, leaving Aaron Loup stuck with the bases loaded and one out to try to clean up his mess. Loup worked his way out of the jam the best he could, though Japan would end up scoring one more that inning: Lars Nootbaar hit into a fielder’s choice to first, scoring a run and putting Japan up, 2-1.

Japan would never look back.

Lefthander Kyle Freeland replaced Aaron Loup in the third, and was able to work through the inning in effort to get the United States back on track. The fourth inning didn’t pan out that way, though, as Kazuma Okamoto blasted a 407-foot shot out to center to put Japan up two. This home run was the only hit that Freeland gave up in his three innings, but this time one hit was all it took to do the damage. Outside of the homer, the U.S. bullpen gave up just one other hit; they also collectively walked six batters, definitely not making anything easy for themselves.

Team USA’s offense wasn’t exactly nonexistent, as they had nine total hits in the game — but they just couldn’t string them together, leaving nine on base and going 0-for-7 with RISP. Kyle Schwarber tried to pump some life into the United States in the eighth inning, launching his own solo shot to bring it within one.

Ohtani came in to close for Japan in the ninth, and outside of a too-close-to-take walk to Jeff McNeil, the Angels superstar pretty much did it flawlessly. “What CAN’T Shoehei Ohtani do?” I’m starting to believe there isn’t actually an answer to the question.

Mike Trout came up with one last chance for the United States to spark some last-minute magic, but after four blazing, 100 mph pitches, Ohtani was able to catch Trout swinging on a slider that had the movement and slower velocity to get past him.

A storybook ending to a tournament that had so many amazing moments was fitting to end the 2023 World Baseball Classic. Many were skeptical of the tournament altogether, but that was truly some of the most exciting baseball that I’ve watched in some time. MLB certainly misses on a lot, but this definitely wasn’t the case. In a strange way, I’ll miss my 2:30 a.m. bedtimes or 4:00 am wake-up calls just to catch an exciting game, or see some of my favorite players perform. But that’s what makes it special, right?

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