When the United States took on Japan in the World Baseball Classic championship game on Tuesday night, it was a dream matchup for any baseball fan.
Less than 24 hours ago, Team Japan walked off Team Mexico in an instant classic to earn a spot in this championship game. With Team USA playing on Sunday and having a day off yesterday, the Americans had the edge regarding rest, but that didn’t appear to play much of a factor on Tuesday.
A surprise that came before the game even began was when Japanese manager Hideki Kuriyama announced that Shota Imanaga would get the start for the Samurai Warriors. Coming into the night many people figured that Padres superstar Yu Darvish would get the nod for Japan but instead, it would be the southpaw Imanga who has pitched out of the Japanese bullpen so far this tournament.
Imanga starting this game didn’t prove to be much of a factor due to the fact that the Japanese treated the biggest game of this tournament much like a bullpen game. Overall, this was an effective strategy for the Japanese because of the Americans’ unfamiliarity that the US faced with the NPB pitchers.
For Mark DeRosa and the United States, D-Backs ace Merill Kelly would get the start with everything on the line. Kelly started in the Stars and Stripes’ Pool play finale where he went three innings giving up two runs. As a result of the length given by Adam Wainwright and Miles Mikolas in the 14-2 victory over Cuba in the semi-finals, DeRosa would have most of his bullpen at his disposal and that would be key after Merill Kelly was pulled after getting just four outs.
When Trea Turner walked onto the Team USA bus this morning, he immediately questioned Mark DeRosa as to why he was moved from the ninth to the sixth spot in the batting order. As he would prove to himself in the second inning, Turner was so hot it didn’t matter where in the lineup he hit. The newly acquired Phillies shortstop sent a ball into the left field seats to pick up his fifth homer of the WBC tying a World Baseball Classic record and putting the Americans up 1-0 in the championship game.
Unfortunately for Mark DeRosa and Team USA, their lead wouldn’t even last one better into the Japanese half of the second. Japan’s home run king Munetaka Murakami absolutely crushed a baseball into the right field seats and tie things at one. With the bases loaded and just one out in that same inning, Mark DeRosa would turn to Aaron Loup to try to wiggle out of the jam. Loup would not escape completely untouched but still contributed a major small victory by getting out of the inning allowing just one run on a Lars Nootbaar RBI ground out.
With Team USA trailing 2-1 heading into the third, the Americans would have to find yet another comeback if they wanted to repeat as champions. However, much to the delight of the millions watching back home in Japan, it was the two-time WBC champions who would hit the scoreboard next. Kazuma Okamoto hit Japan’s second leadoff home run of the night to double the Japanese lead and make it 3-1 in the fourth.
The bullpen for Team Japan had the United States off balance for the entire middle innings. Shosei Togo, Hiroto Takahashi, and Hiromi Itoh came out of the bullpen to pitch four scoreless innings to keep Japan ahead 3-1 going into the 7th.
The 7th inning looked like it was going to be the inning that the US broke through after Jeff McNeil walked and Mookie Betts singled to put two on with no one out. However, Mike Trout would fly out to right and Paul Goldschmidt would ground into a double play to end the first major threat of the night for the Americans.
With the Americans trailing by two runs and down to their final six outs, the Japanese turned to Padres superstar Yu Darvish to pitch the 8th. For the first time tonight, Team USA was facing a pitcher whom they all knew well. That would prove to be a good thing for Kyle Schwarber who came up second in the inning and crushed a splitter for a home run to make it 3-2 and pull the US within one.
It all came down to the 9th inning in this one where none other than Shohei Ohtani would come on for Japan and try to earn the save and secure the World Baseball Classic Championship. For the US it would be Jeff McNeil, Mookie Betts, and Mike Trout who would need to come up with at least one run to keep this game alive.
Jeff McNeil would start the 9th inning with a leadoff walk to instantly put the tying run on base for Team USA. Mookie Betts would be the next hitter and he would ground into a double play to bring the US down to their final out.
Mike Trout would step up to the plate against Shohei Ohtnani in one of the most anticipated batter vs pitcher matchups in baseball history. Unfortunately for the Americans, they were on the wrong side of history as Ohtani struck out Trout.
Japan won the game 3-2 and won their 3rd World Baseball Classic Championship. For the Americans, a heartbreaking loss put an end to their tournament.