Shohei Ohtani stepped into the batter’s box Monday night for the biggest at-bat of his baseball career since leaving his country to play in the major leagues and wasted no time.
It was the ninth inning at LoanDepot Park. Japan, trailing by one run, was three outs away from suffering a shock and disappointing mass elimination in the world baseball classic semifinals at the hands of Mexico.
60 feet 6 inches away was St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Giovanny Gallegos, Mexico’s top reliever. The first pitch was an 88 mph changeup, off the plate, surely a ball. It did not matter. Ohtani hooked the pitch into the gap between right-center field, setting Japan on fire 6-5 comeback wins with a double. He yelled at his dugout from second base. The momentum had changed.
Masataka Yoshida followed with a walk before Munetaka Murakami, who came to the plate with three strikeouts in his first four at-bats, slammed a 1-1 fastball into the wall in center field. Ohtani and pinch runner Ukyo Shuto ran in to score, giving Japan a thrilling victory to set up a final between two baseball powerhouses.
USA teamthe defending champion of the tournament, awaits in the final on Tuesday night.
The sudden result halted an unexpected run by Mexico led by their star left fielder.
Randy Arozarena came off the bench for Mexico on Monday with a sombrero on his head and cowboy boots on his feet. He walked out to the TV down the right field line where Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz took selfies with him. He then ran to the other side and snuck up behind Pedro Martinez on live TV.
From there, he ran out onto the field. It was time to fuck batting practice balls: hat, boots and all. The WBC had been the Arozarena show. On Monday, against Japan, LoanDepot Park was the stage for 35,933 fans.
Arozarena, a native of Cuba who became a Mexican national last year to play in this tournament, continued his leadership for his adopted country.
On Monday, he stole a solo home run off Kazuma Okamoto to left field in the fifth inning. Two innings later, he hit a one-out double. He then scored the go-ahead run on Alex Verdugo’s double.
He delivered his trademark celebration, a dramatic crossover and pose, at the left-field wall when he made his steal and at second base when he doubled. He signed autographs in left field during the pitching changes. He made everything look so easy.
By the end of the night, he had tied the record for most doubles in a WBC with six. Her seven extra-base hits are tied for second. He is 9-for-20 (.450) with nine RBIs and a 1.507 on-base-slugging percentage in the tournament.
Initially, all eyes were on Japanese starter Roki Sasaki. Considered by some evaluators the best pitcher in the world not yet in the major leagues, the 21-year-old Sasaki boasts an elite fastball and plenty of potential.
Last April, he pitched a perfect game with 19 strikeouts in the Nippon Japanese Professional Baseball League, considered the second best league in the world. He followed with eight more perfect innings and 14 strikeouts before being pulled on a caution.
Arrived as announced early Monday. His first pitch was a 101 mph fastball to Arozarena. He shut out Arozarena later in the at bat with a 102 mph fastball right up the middle.
Sasaki kept his velocity in triple digits, but he wasn’t untouchable. After back-to-back two-out singles by Rowdy Tellez and Isaac Paredes, Luis Urías put Mexico in first with a three-run home run over the left-field wall.
The explosion gave Patrick Sandoval a mattress. The Angels’ lefty had started his night with two strikeouts. A third straight wouldn’t be easy: Ohtani was at the plate. Sandoval said the two Angels teammates spoke briefly on the field Sunday between their respective teams’ workouts. The impending showdown was not discussed.
“It’s going to be fun to play against him,” Sandoval said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
The first clash came to a full count before Sandoval hit the superstar looking slider. Sandoval tapped his glove with enthusiasm. He continued to hold Japan scoreless for 4 ⅓ innings. He struck out six, walked one and threw 66 pitches.
Japan, however, evened the score in the seventh inning when Yoshida, who signed a $90 million contract with the Boston Red Sox during the offseason, hit a three-run homer off lefty JoJo Romero down the right-field line. .
Arozarena sparked Mexico’s response in the eighth inning with a one-out double. Verdugo followed with his own brace to give Mexico the lead. Three batters later, Paredes grounded out to the left side to give Mexico a 5-3 lead.
But it was not enough. All Ohtani needed was one pitch to turn Japan’s fortunes around.