Ohtani strikes out Trout to give Japan win in World Baseball Classic
Shohei Ohtani stuck out Los Angeles Angels teammate Mike Trout to end Japan’s 3-2 victory over the United States Tuesday evening in the championship game of the World Baseball Classic.
Ohtani entered the game in the ninth inning in his first relief appearance since 2016, when he played for the Nippon Ham Fighters of Japan’s Pacific League, and walked the first batter he faced, New York Mets second baseman Jeff McNeil, a former Long Beach State standout, on seven pitches. The next batter, Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts, grounded into a double play.
Ohtani fell behind on the count, 2-1, then Trout swung and missed at a 99.8 mph fastball, evening the count. Ohtani’s 101.6 mph fastball was low and outside for a ball. Trout then swung and missed at an 87.2 mph slider.
Ohtani was selected as the tournament’s MVP and as both pitcher and designated hitter on the All-Classic Team. He was 2-0 with a save in the championship game with a 1.86 ERA and batted a team-best .435 with 1 home run and 8 RBIs.
“I believe this is the best moment in my life and just because we won today, though,” Ohtani said through an interpreter. “Of course this doesn’t mean that we achieved a final goal, but this is just a passing point. Our team has just started, so I think we need to tune-up for the future.”
United States manager Mark DeRosa said he “was hoping it would end a little bit different with Mike popping one but the baseball world won tonight.”
“Although those guys are disappointed in there, I couldn’t be prouder of ’em, the way they came together as a team,” DeRosa said. “From getting together two and a half weeks ago, all the things that happened along the way, tough games, easy games, whatever it was, they truly started to bond and enjoy being around each other.”
Trout was 1-for-5 with three strikeouts Tuesday before a capacity crowd of 36,098 at loanDepot Park in Miami. He doubled in his first at-bat, but did not advance any farther as St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt struck out and Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado grounded out.
Trout struck out leading off the third and struck out for the first out of the fifth inning after Betts led off with an infield single. Trout lined out to right field for the first out of the seventh inning with McNeil on second and Betts on first.
Ohtani was 1-for-3 with a first-inning walk. He struck out leading off the third, grounded out in the fifth and hit an infield single in the seventh.
The United States took a 1-0 lead in the second inning on former Dodger Trea Turner’s record-tying fifth home run of the tournament. Seung-yuop Lee of South Korea hit five home runs in the inaugural 2006 tournament.
Japan tied the score in the bottom of the second on Munetaka Murakami’s leadoff homer against starter Merrill Kelly. Japan then loaded the bases with one out on singles by Kazuma Okamoto and Sosuke Genda and a walk to its No. 9 hitter, Yuhei Nakamura.
DeRosa then replaced Kelly with Angels reliever Aaron Loup.
St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Lars Nootbaar, a former USC and El Segundo High standout, grounded out to Goldschmidt, driving in Okamoto with the go-ahead run. Nootbaar was eligible to play for Japan because his mother is Japanese.
Japan increased its lead to 3-1 when Okamoto homered leading off the third off Colorado Rockies’ left-hander Kyle Freeland, the third of six U.S. pitchers.
The Americans cut the deficit to 3-2 on Kyle Schwarber’s eighth-inning homer off San Diego Padres right-hander Yu Darvish, who pitched for the Dodgers in 2017.
Left-hander Shota Imanaga, the first of Japan’s seven pitchers, was credited with the victory, allowing one run and four hits over two innings, striking out two and not walking a batter. The rule requiring a starter to pitch five innings to be eligible for a victory was waived for the tournament because of its pitch limits.
Kelly was charged with the loss, allowing two runs and three hits in 1 1/3 innings, with two walks and one strikeout.
The championship was Japan’s third in the tournament’s five editions. Japan also won the championship in each of the first two tournaments, 2006 and 2009.
The United States won in its lone previous title game appearance in 2017, the most recent time the tournament was played before this year. The 2021 tournament was canceled in May 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Japan completed the tournament 7-0 and received $3 million — $300,000 for qualifying for the tournament, $300,000 for winning its group, $400,000 for advancing to the quarterfinals, $500,000 for advancing to the semifinals, $500,000 for advancing to the final and $1 million for winning the final — to be split between its players and national baseball federation.
The U.S. went 5-2, also losing a pool play game March 12. It received $1.7 million.
The tournament will next be played in 2026.