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Japan defeats USA to win World Baseball Classic

MIAMI — In a game many dreamed of from the start — between two of the world’s powerhouses in baseball and two of its best players in Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout — that’s exactly what it turned out to be.

Ohtani, the two-way phenom, was Japan’s designated hitter the entire game and won the mound in the ninth inning with a title shot. And with a powerful inning, including a six-pitch strikeout from Los Angeles Angels teammate Trout, Ohtani sent Japan into pandemonium.

With a 3-2 victory, Japan dethroned the United States on Tuesday at LoanDepot Park in Miami and lifted the trophy for the 2023 World Baseball Classic. The United States won the WBC the last time it was played in 2017.

Behind powerful strikes and robust throws, Japan went 7-0 in the tournament and cemented their place as the best country in the history of this tournament, which began in 2006. In the five editions of the WBC, Japan has now won three times.

Despite a roster filled with Most Valuable Player winners and Major League Baseball stars, the United States mustered little against Japan, a team made up mostly of stars from that country’s top professional league. And, of course, arguably the best player in the world: Ohtani.

In the bottom of the seventh inning, Ohtani showed his speed by beating a pitch from American shortstop Trea Turner to earn a single. And as the inning ended, he ran to the Japan bullpen in left field to warm up his right arm. His teammate, Yu Darvish, a longtime major leaguer who pitches for the San Diego Padres, injected drama into the game.

Originally lined up to start the final game until a substitution the day before, Darvish came on as an eighth-inning reliever. But USA designated hitter Kyle Schwarber hit a solo home run in the right seats of the field to cut the deficit to one run and re-energize the crowd of 36,098.

A small lead, however, was enough for Japan with Ohtani looming as a closer. Normally a starting pitcher, Ohtani made his first relief appearance since 2016, when he played for the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan.

Before the game, Ohtani, the unanimous winner of the 2021 American League MVP award in MLB, addressed his teammates and told them to stop admiring the superstars on the other side.

“If you look up to them, you can’t top them,” he said, according to reports. “We came here to surpass them, to reach the top. For a day, let’s put aside our admiration for them and just think about winning.

The United States struck first against Japan in the second set. Turner, the Philadelphia Phillies shortstop who powered USA earlier in the tournament, smashed his fifth WBC home run. He hit a low fastball from Japanese starting pitcher Shota Imanaga into the left field seats. The many American fans present and Turner beamed in the dugout afterwards.

But the advance did not last long. In the bottom half of the second inning, Japan tied the score when third baseman Munetaka Murakami destroyed a pitch from American starting pitcher Merrill Kelly into the upper deck. The Murakami home run, which set the Japanese single-season record for home runs by a native player last season with 56 for the Yakult Swallows, was measured at 432 feet.

The Japanese squad then chased Kelly out of the game with two singles and a walk. A groundout by Lars Nootbaar, a St. Louis Cardinals outfielder whose mother is Japanese, gave his team a 2-1 lead.

In the fourth inning, Japan once again showed their strength at home plate. Facing Kyle Freeland, first baseman Kazuma Okamoto sent a dangling slider over the left center field wall to extend Japan’s lead to 3-1.

Then, in the final innings, there was the stumble from Darvish, the explosion from Schwarber and the effort from Ohtani.

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