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Shohei Ohtani closes it out against Mike Trout as Japan tops USA in WBC final


The two teams, representing the world’s two longtime baseball superpowers, entered the field at Loan Depot Park Tuesday night in single file from each corner of the outfield. The United States came in from right field. Japan was crossing the road. At the head of each star-studded group were the two best players in the world.

Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout, the captains, carried the flags of their respective countries. Three weeks ago, they were teammates with the Angels in spring training together. They’ll be together again in Arizona at the end of the week, going through final preparations for the Angels’ pivotal season. But on Tuesday, they were championship opponents in the World Baseball Classic, the biggest game of their baseball lives.

Trout’s role for the night was known from the outset. It was the same as always. Second batting and game center. Ohtani was a different and mysterious story. The two-way star was again batting third as Japan’s designated hitter. However, the possibility loomed that he would come out of the bullpen to pitch with the game on the line. Maybe even against Trout.

It was a scintillating possibility. Almost too good to be true. And yet it happened in Japan’s captivating 3-2 victory. Ohtani came out of the Japan bullpen in left field, soiled from attempting to break up a double play earlier in the game, just after 10:30 p.m. to protect a one-run lead, three outs from clinching the championship. It was his first relief appearance since 2016. They will come in the top of the ninth inning for Team USA: Jeff McNeil, Mookie Betts and Trout.

McNeil started the inning with a seven-pitch walk. The weight of the moment was evident; McNeil leaped down the line, turning to shout in the USA dugout. But the momentum quickly evaporated. Two pitches later, Betts grounded into a double play. Suddenly, Team USA was left with one out, and the baseball world got the matchup it was craving.

Ohtani started the clash with a slider off the plate for the one ball. The next four pitches were fastballs. 100mph, 100mph, 100mph, 102mph. Trout tore through the first, took the second like a ball, hit the third and fired the fourth to bring the battle to the finish. Full count.

The righty went off with what he started with: an 87 mph slider. This one was perfectly placed. A borderline strike from Trout. The three-time American League MVP, a surefire Hall of Famer with 15 career playoff plate appearances, took a swing and missed. Strike three. Game over. Ohtani tossed his glove and hat to the ground as his teammates rushed to harass him.

“Regardless of whether I gave up a hit or got an out, I thought I wanted to throw the kind of pitches that wouldn’t leave me with any regrets,” Ohtani said in Japanese during the FS1 broadcast. “He is a great hitter. I’m glad I was able to get it out somehow.”

Ohtani’s exploits sealed a 7-0 unbeaten run in the tournament for Japan. The country became the first to win the WBC three times. The USA, the defending champion of the tournament, finished 5-2. Ohtani, unsurprisingly, was named the MVP of the tournament.

Most eyes in Japan were on the game. A popular high school baseball tournament at Koshien Stadium in Osaka, home of the 50,000-capacity Hanshin Tigers, was poorly attended. The Japanese media speculated that it was because people were at home watching the national team. With good reason: 62 million people, nearly half the country’s population, watched Japan’s victory over South Korea in group play. That number alone was more than the most watched World Series game in history. The hype for Tuesday was bigger.

Team USA was on the mind of Team Japan long before the tournament started. In August, Japan’s manager Hideki Kuriyama, Ohtani’s manager with the Nippon-Ham Fighters before he signed with the Angels, traveled to the United States for a part scouting, part recruiting trip.

Kuriyama wanted to meet with potential WBC participants in the majors and learn about American players. Kuriyama discovered that speed is king here and that American hitters are dangerous. Along the way, he worked to secure the main target on his roster: Ohtani, the two-way generational talent Kuriyama has guided since he turned pro.

Ohtani has dominated Major League Baseball over the past two seasons, exceeding any possible expectations since arriving from Japan and cultivating a respect for the competition. He viewed Tuesday’s meeting as the best possible opportunity to show that Japan remains a top-tier baseball powerhouse.

“They are the best opponents for the final stage,” he told MLB Network on Monday night after Japan defeated Mexico in the semifinals.

On Tuesday, minutes before taking the field, Japan’s most famous athlete, an icon who has yet to celebrate his 30th birthday, gave a short but moving speech to his team in the clubhouse.

Pitcher Shohei Ohtani, top center, celebrates after Japan beat the United States 3-2 in the World Baseball Classic title game Tuesday night in Miami.

(Martha Lavandier / Associated Press)

“Only one thing from me,” Ohtani said. “Let’s stop admiring them. (Paul) Goldschmidt will be at first base; if you look at the center, Mike Trout is there; Mookie Betts is in the outfield. There are players known to anyone who plays baseball.

“For just one day… if you admire them, you cannot surpass them. We came here to overcome them, to get to the top. For one day, let’s throw away our admiration for them and just think about winning.”

Ohtani is credited with helping recruit veteran right-hander Yu Darvish, who participated in his first WBC in 2009, blowing a save in the final game before earning the save in a win over South Korea. Darvish, 36, the oldest member of the team, chose to become the only major leaguer to attend training camp in Japan last month instead of showing up for spring training to create a sense of camaraderie with the team. younger players.

Darvish, like Ohtani, was available to pitch on Tuesday after pitching in the quarterfinals on Thursday. The Angels, however, would allow Ohtani, who had never pitched on less than five days rest, to pitch just one inning, limiting him to relief appearances.

The San Diego Padres, on the other hand, cleared Darvish to pitch with no known limitations. As a result, he was expected to start, but Japan surprisingly chose to start left-hander Shota Imanaga.

“I don’t know the plan at all,” Darvish said before the game. “It all depends on how the game plays out.”

Darvish walked into the Japan bullpen during the fifth inning on Tuesday. Ohtani, Japan’s designated hitter, followed before the start of the sixth. The move drew attention. Time was running out for the US, and two of the best pitchers in the world were potentially waiting.

By then, Japan had a 3-1 lead. American shortstop Trea Turner opened the scoring with another home run, his fifth of the tournament, off Imanga. The five home runs, four of which came in Team USA’s three knockout games, tied the record for a WBC.

The advantage was fleeting. Japan tied the score with a solo home run by Munetaka Murakami, the slugger who delivered the double to beat Mexico in the semifinals last night against US starter Merrill Kelly. Later in the inning, after Angels left-hander Aaron Loup replaced Kelly, Lars Nootbaar, the first non-Japanese-born player to play on their national baseball team, gave Japan a 2-in lead. 1 on an RBI groundout.

Kazume Okamoto’s solo homer off lefty Kyle Freeland doubled the margin in the fourth inning. From there, the teams went scoreless for three innings until the eighth when Darvish took the mound.

Darvish’s only previous experience in a winner-take-all championship was his disastrous start in Game 7 of the 2017 World Series for the Dodgers. He allowed five runs in 1⅔ innings. The Dodgers lost and Darvish was blamed.

Darvish wobbled again on Tuesday. Kyle Schwarber cut Team USA’s deficit to one when he hit a solo home run to the second deck with one out. Turner then singled. But this time Darvish avoided a debacle. JT Realmuto jumped and Cedric Mullins popped up to finish off the threat. The bench of Japan exploded. The lead remained intact for Ohtani.

Ohtani needed 14 pitches to add another record-breaking achievement to his ledger. Modern baseball has never seen a talent like him. On Tuesday, as the baseball world watched, he proved it again.

Times columnist Dylan Hernandez contributed to this story.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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