Shohei Otani is a fan of his Angels teammate as Japan beat the USA 3-2 for the baseball world title.
MIAMI — Shohei Otani came out of the bullpen and backed up his Los Angeles Angels teammate Mike Trout in the final game, who wanted to see the entire baseball world beat Japan 3-2 over the defending U.S. champion on Tuesday night in his first World Baseball Classic. title since 2009.
“This is the best moment of my life,” Otani said through a translator.
Otani, a two-sided star who captivated fans on two continents, was named WBC MVP. He clutched the award to his chest, winning the trophy by hitting Trout.
“Whether I pulled him out or he got hit by me, I didn’t want to regret anything. I wanted to make my best pitch,” Otani said.
He did and then some.
Trying to defend a thin edge, with two outs and no one on base, Otani hit 100 mph, causing Trout to swing and miss two fastballs. With a full count, Trout waved a sharp slider to end the ninth inning.
“I think every baseball fan wanted to see this. I have been answering questions about this for the past month and a half,” Trout said.
Did you think it could end up any other way? He said.
Otani beat a single infield in the seventh inning as the designated hitter before going down the left field line to Japan’s bullpen to warm up for his third outing of the tournament.
After major league champion Jeff McNeil went into ninth place, Otani made Mookie Betts start a double play.
Thus was born Trout, captain of the US team and three-time MVP.
“I saw him take a deep breath, trying to control his emotions,” said Team USA manager Mark DeRosa. “I can’t even imagine myself having two of the best players on the planet go head to head as teammates in this place.”
Otani made a save. His only other save came in a postseason game in Japan in 2016.
“He’s got some nasty stuff,” Trout said. “He threw me a good pitch at the end.”
Just not the ending DeRosa wanted.
“I was hoping things would go our way when Mikey did one against Otani,” he said.
“The whole world saw Otani coming, big place, fighting. It’s like it was written in the script. I just want things to go differently,” he said.
He added, “But the baseball world won today.”
Otani batted .435 with one homer, four doubles, eight RBIs and 10 walks when Japan joined the Dominican Republic in 2013 to become the only undefeated national team baseball major tournament champion. Otani, the 2021 AL MVP, was 2-0 with a save and a 1.86 ERA on the mound, hitting 11 in 9 2/3 innings.
“What he does in the game is similar to what probably 90% of the guys at this club have done in Minor League or youth tournaments, and he can do it on the biggest stages,” DeRosa said. “He is a unicorn in this sport. I think other guys will try to do it, but I don’t think they’re going to do it at his level.”
Japan went 7-0 to beat rivals 56-18, reaching the final for the first time since winning the first two WBC World Championships in 2006 and 2009. No other country has won the title more than once.
Munetaka Murakami and Kazuma Okamoto scored as Japan took a 3-2 lead.
Trea Turner gave the US the lead with a second-place finish with his record fifth home run in the tournament, and Kyle Schwarber pulled the Americans on the run as he went a long way in the eighth from Yu Darvish.
It was the second major title in a row for the Japanese, who beat the US 2-0 in Yokohama to claim the 2021 Olympic gold medal. Japan used the best players in this tournament, while the US sent released major league players and top prospects.
Turner gave the US the lead in the second inning with a 1-0 left against Shota Imanagi, tying South Korean son Yuop Lee in 2006 to top the WBC. This caused a sell-out of 36,098 people – fans were given bracelets with twinkling multi-colored lights.
Murakami, at 23 already a two-time Central League MVP, equalized on the first pitch in the bottom half when Merrill Kelly (0-1) raised a fastball. Murakami led him at 115.1 mph to the starboard upper deck, 432 feet away.
Murakami’s late-game brace beat Japan 6-5 over Mexico in the semi-finals on Monday night, and his third-inning homer off Nick Martinez gave Japan the lead in the 2021 gold medal game.
Japan loaded base in the second singles by Okamoto and Sosuke Genda, as well as a walk by Yuhei Nakamura. Lars Nutbaar, the first non-Japanese player to play for the Samurai Warriors, followed by Aaron Loop’s scoring out to give a 2-1 lead.
Okamoto extended the lead in the fourth when Kyle Freeland landed a flat slide over the wall at left center.
Japan lost 9-5 as Imanaga teamed up with six relievers to keep the US to 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position. The 29-year-old left-hander and Shosei Togo played two innings each, Hiroto Takahashi, Hiromi Ito and Taisei Ota each got three outs, and Ota avoided trouble with two no-outs by knocking Trout out and getting Paul. Goldschmidt started a double game.
Trout and Otani hugged behind the ball cage during pre-game practice, then held their country’s flag as they led their teams to home plate in a single row during the show, with Trout on the right field line and Otani on the left.
Several thousand fans showed up hours early to watch Otani practice batting and applauded as he hit the video board above the second deck in the center.
Trout hit .296 in the tournament with one homer, seven RBIs, and 12 strikeouts.
Japan receives $3 million in prize money, while the US receives $1.7 million. Half of each goes to the players, the other half to the National Baseball Federation.
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