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Mexico touches the final but falls with its head held high against Japan in the World Classic


MIAMI — Shohei Ohtani ignited the rally in the ninth inning with a double, and Munetaka Murakami hit a two-run double that catapulted Japan to a 6-5 victory over Mexico on Monday night and to the final of the World Baseball Classic.

Japan will meet defending champions the United States in a championship game on Tuesday that pits Ohtani against Mike Trout, his teammate from the Los Angeles Angels and center fielder for the US team.

The Japanese were proclaimed champions in the first two editions of the tournament. The United States did it in the last disputed in 2017.

Mexico was lying on the field of the Miami Marlins stadium after reaching the semifinals for the first time in a Classic.

After exceeding expectations, the Mexicans believe that their performance will have an impact to promote baseball in their country.

“In Mexico there will be a radical change,” said Mexican manager Benjamín Gil. “I don’t know if tomorrow or in a week, a month or a year. But baseball is going to start to grow, if not the most important sport.

Ohtani went 2-for-4. He scored in the seventh when Masataka Yoshida tied the game with a three-run homer off reliever JoJo Romero.

Ohtani’s double against Giovanny Gallegos was his fourth in the contest. After Ohtani got the rally going, Yoshida drew a walk that set up the table for Murakami’s game-ending hit.

“Mexico was a fantastic team and they put us in a very difficult situation,” said Hideki Kuriyama, Japan’s manager. “I have always had the faith that there is always a chance at the end no matter how the game has gone.

Mexican pitcher Isaac Paredes after losing to Team Japan during the World Baseball Classic semifinals at LoanDepot Park on March 20, 2023 in Miami, Florida.

The semifinal began with a pitching duel between Roki Sasaki and Patrick Sandoval, but the Japanese offensive power tipped the balance against the Mexican relievers.

Sandoval went 4 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing four hits and a walk.

Sasaki struck out three in four innings in his first start outside of Japan.

Luis Urías put Mexico ahead in the fourth with a three-run home run to left-center field off Sasaki, hitting a 90.8 mph chop fastball. The drive drove in Rowdy Téllez and Isaac Paredes, who reached base on two of the five hits allowed by Sasaki.

Dozens of MLB scouts closely followed Sasaki, whose arrival in the majors could be realized in the future after becoming a sensation last year in his second season with the Chiba Lotte Marines of the Pacific League. Some put the 21-year-old right-hander in the same category as Ohtani. Twenty-six of Sasaki’s 64 pitches eclipsed 100 mph.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto of Japan pitches against Mexico during the fifth inning of the World Baseball Classic, Monday, March 20, 2023, in Miami.  (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

With his glove in left field and his bat, Randy Arozarena was the dynamo of the Mexican team. In the fifth, the Cuban nationalized Mexican astonished by catching Kazuma Okamoto’s shot by extending his arm over the fence after measuring the trajectory with absolute serenity. Moments later, while Gil made a pitching change, Arozarena began signing autographs for fans behind the wall.

“Randy is amazing,” Gil said. “An extraordinary talent, with an infectious personality. I think everyone agrees that he is phenomenal for baseball, phenomenal for Cuba and phenomenal for Mexico.”

Alex Verdugo, Yoshida’s new teammate on the Boston Red Sox, put the lead back with a double that drove in Arozarena in the eighth. Isaac Paredes produced another with a ground ball to left field that got Jarren Durán out.

Japan pulled back in the eighth on Hotaka Yamakawa’s sacrifice fly.

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