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Behind Shohei Ohtani, Japan edges USA to claim WBC title

MIAMI — Munetaka Murakami and Kazuma Okamoto homered as Japan won the World Baseball Classic, defeating the United States 3-2 on Tuesday night.

Two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani earned the save with a scoreless ninth inning, getting Mookie Betts to bounce into a double play before striking out Los Angeles Angels teammate Mike Trout.

Immediately after the strikeout, Ohtani tossed his glove and his cap aside before celebrating with his teammates. Ohtani was named WBC MVP for his efforts.

“It was great,” Ohtani said of his WBC experience. “There’s a different intensity representing your country and facing guys who represent their countries.”

Japan, which also prevailed in 2006 and 2009, leads all nations with three WBC titles. Japan went 7-0 in this tournament, joining the 2013 Dominican Republic squad as the only unbeaten teams in WBC history.

Trea Turner and Kyle Schwarber homered for Team USA, which entered this tournament as the reigning champion by virtue of its 2017 title. The event wasn’t held in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Turner, who went 2-for-4 on Tuesday, hit five homers during the United States’ WBC run. Betts went 2-for-5 for the Americans in the final.

U.S. manager Mark DeRosa said, “The baseball world won tonight. Although our guys are disappointed, I couldn’t be prouder of them, the way they came together as a team. They truly started to bond and enjoy being around each other.”

The United States opened the scoring in the second inning as Turner slugged a 406-foot solo homer to left off a Shota Imanaga fastball.

Murakami tied the score on the first pitch of the second inning, blasting a 432-foot shot off a Merrill Kelly fastball.

Japan took a 2-1 lead later in the inning, knocking Kelly out of the game after loading the bases with one out. Reliever Aaron Loup retired the two batters he faced in the frame, but Lars Nootbaar’s soft groundout brought home the go-ahead run.

Okamoto’s 407-foot homer off a Kyle Freeland slider gave Japan a 3-1 lead in the fourth.

Team USA started well in the seventh as pinch hitter Jeff McNeil drew a four-pitch walk against Taisei Ota and Betts singled to left. However, Trout lined out to right, and Paul Goldschmidt bounced into a double play to end the threat.

Schwarber cut the USA’s deficit to 3-2 after a strong at-bat against Yu Darvish. After working the count to 2-1, Schwarber fouled off six consecutive pitches before getting hold of a splitter and hammering it 436 feet to right-center field to draw the Americans closer.

In the ninth, McNeil drew a leadoff walk against Ohtani. Betts’ double-play grounder then set the stage for the epic Ohtani-Trout matchup.

Ohtani won the duel, getting Trout on a 3-2 sweeping breaking ball that tailed away from him.

“Whether I got him out or he got a hit off me, I didn’t want to take any risks,” Ohtani said of facing Trout. “I wanted to make my best pitch.”

DeRosa said, “If you were going to write a script, I was hoping it would go our way with Mikey (Trout) popping one against Ohtani. But this is real. The WBC is real. The whole world got to see Ohtani come in — big spot, battling. That’s kind of how it was scripted. I just wish it would have gone differently.”

–Walter Villa, Field Level Media


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