Japan triumphs over USA in World Baseball Classic

Japan triumphs over USA in World Baseball Classic

'Unicorn' Ohtani strikes out Los Angeles teammate Trout in riveting ending

Pitcher Shohei Ohtani (16), catcher Yuhei Nakamura (27) and Team Japan celebrate their defeat of Team USA to win the World Baseball Classic at LoanDepot Park in Miami on Tuesday. (Photo: Rhona Wise-USA Today Sports)
Pitcher Shohei Ohtani (16), catcher Yuhei Nakamura (27) and Team Japan celebrate their defeat of Team USA to win the World Baseball Classic at LoanDepot Park in Miami on Tuesday. (Photo: Rhona Wise-USA Today Sports)

MIAMI: Shohei Ohtani struck out Mike Trout in a showdown between two of the game’s best players to seal Japan’s 3-2 victory over the United States in a riveting World Baseball Classic (WBC) final on Tuesday.

Baseball is the United States’ national pastime but Japan’s win over the defending WBC champions means they have won three of the five editions of the global showcase first played in 2006. Team USA were the defending champions.

Japan were a perfect 7-0 through this year’s edition.

The contest ended in a duel that is likely to go down in baseball folklore as Ohtani, the hitting and pitching sensation from Japan, faced off against his Los Angeles Angels teammate and USA captain Trout.

“Whether I got him out or he got a hit off of me, I didn’t want to have any regrets,” said Ohtani through an interpreter. “I wanted to make my best pitch.

“This is a different experience, representing your country and facing guys representing their country. It was a different intensity and it was great.”

Carrying their nations’ flags, the two men had led their respective teams onto the field and then at the climax, in a moment of pure sporting magic, stood across from each other with everything on the line.

With Japan clinging to a 3-2 ninth inning lead they turned to their ace Ohtani.

He walked the first batter he faced in Jeff McNeil but then got Mookie Betts to hit into a double play, bringing up Trout with two out and the sellout crowd on its feet.

Throwing 100 mph fastballs Ohtani struck out his Angels teammate on six pitches to trigger celebrations as the Japan team poured out of the dugout at LoanDepot Park in Miami.

Ohtani a ‘unicorn’

Japan manager Hideki Kuriyama said the win could have a big impact on the sport’s popularity back home.

“All the kids in Japan who are watching that might think, ‘Oh, that’s really cool’, and they might want to make up their mind to want to be baseball players,” he said

US manager Mark DeRosa said it had been a storybook ending for the baseball world but that he had hoped “it would end a little bit different with Mike popping one”.

“The whole world got to see Ohtani come in, big spot, battling. It’s kind of how it was kind of scripted,” he told reporters.

He also heaped praise on Ohtani, saying, “no moment’s too big for him”.

“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. He is a unicorn in the sport.”

Ohtani was named the WBC’s Most Valuable Player after posting the best statistics over the entire tournament.

US shortstop Trea Turner provided the early fireworks with a second inning solo shot, taking Shota Imanaga into the left field bleachers for his fifth home run of the WBC to give the USA a 1-0 lead.

Japan answered right back in the bottom of the inning, slugger Munetaka Murakami, who drove in the two runs in Japan’s walkoff semi-final win over Mexico, slamming a home run to deep center off Merrill Kelly.

After Kelly loaded the bases DeRosa had seen enough, making the switch to Aaron Loup, who would get them out of the inning but not before Lars Nootbaar grounded out to first to score Kazuma Okamoto with the go-ahead run.

Okamoto added to Japan’s lead with a home run to lead off the bottom of the fourth.

And Japan had a huge opportunity to put the contest out of reach in the sixth when Jason Adams walked three to load the bases, but Nootbaar flied out meekly to right to end the threat.

With theUSA running out of innings Kyle Schwarber, the National League’s home run champion, slammed a monster homer off Yu Darvish in the eighth, taking him into the upper deck to trim Japan’s lead to 3-2. 

In Tokyo, Japanese sports fans erupted in jubilation after the game’s final out.

Over a hundred people gathered near Shimbashi Station in the city centre to get special newspaper editions celebrating the victory. The scene quickly turned chaotic, with police officers jumping in to help hand out copies

“I am so proud as a Japanese national,” said Yuji Takeno, a 33-year-old company worker who was among those gathered in Shimbashi. “I also play baseball for leisure and it makes me want to work harder, that’s how well they played.”

“Thank you Ohtani, thank you samurai Team Japan!” shouted 29-year-old company worker Sho Ishii, who watched the game at a public viewing near Tokyo Tower.

“Nihon yusho,” or “Japan victory,” was the No.1 trending topic on Twitter, with baseball-related hashtags rounding out the top 10.

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