The 2023 edition of the World Baseball Classic came to a dramatic end on Tuesday night as Japan toppled defending champions Team USA 3-2 to claim a record third crown.
It was the nation’s first since 2009 in an eagerly anticipated match-up that did not disappoint. In a script that could have been conjured by the baseball gods, Japan captain Shohei Ohtani faced his Los Angeles Angels team-mate, and USA skipper Mike Trout, in the ninth inning with one out remaining and a solitary run separating the two sides.
Ohtani came out on top on this occasion to spark wild scenes of jubilation from players, staff, thousands of fans in attendance, and millions more watching the Miami proceedings in Japan.
“It was the greatest situation facing the greatest hitter,” Ohtani told ESPN post-match. “Not only for Japan, I feel like this tournament was great for baseball in general. I think baseball took a step forward.”
The two-way sensation, who overpowered his team-mate with a series of blinding 100-mph pitches in the ninth, led his roster in raucous celebrations that included the often seen ski masks and champagne showers. Ohtani was also one of the lucky recipients of the traditional ‘doage’ - where team members toss the winning manager and players in the air.
St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Lars Nootbaar, San Diego Padres pitcher Yu Darvish and manager Hideki Kuriyama were also jubilantly thrown aloft by the Japanese squad. An emotional Nootbaar, who qualified to represent the nation through his mother, said in a TV interview after the game: “The greatest decision I ever made.”
“Nippon daisuki,” he added in Japanese. “Arigato. I love Japan. Thank you.” The 25-year-old was joined in his celebrations by millions of adoring fans back home. Local TV stuck with coverage of the final for several hours after it's conclusion with fans spilling onto the streets of Tokyo to mark the momentous occasion.
One overjoyed supporter, Takamichi Masui, 55, told NBC News: “Thank you Ohtani! Thank you [Munetaka] Murakami! Thank you so much!” 29-year-old Toshiya Ishii wept while telling the outlet: “Thank you Ohtani. Congratulations Samurai Japan!” Japan joined the Dominican Republic in 2013 as the only unbeaten champions of baseball's premier national team competition.
On Tuesday night, Team USA threatened to claim their second successive WBC title when Trea Turner opened the scoring with a 406-foot solo home run. Murakami hit back with a home run of his own in the second inning, before Nootbaar's ground ball brought home the go-ahead run.
Kazuma Okamoto drilled a homer that proved to be the winning run later in the fourth which meant ,despite Kyle Schwarber rounding the bases with a bomb of his own in the eighth, Japan sealed a famous win.
The Asian giants have long enjoyed an illustrious history in the sport with a hugely successful domestic league, former MLB legends and a total of 64 Japanese-born players currently playing in the league. This latest triumph will help to maintain the prestige of baseball in Japan, and with arguably the world’s best player in their ranks, MLB should expect any more Japanese players on US shores.2023-03-22T18:09:22Z dg43tfdfdgfd