Ohtani closes the show as Japan defeat the United States in World Baseball Classic final
Japan superstar Shohei Ohtani struck out Los Angeles Angels team-mate Mike Trout to end a 3-2 victory over the United States in a thrilling conclusion to the World Baseball Classic (WBC) on Tuesday.
The two pre-tournament favourites ended up meeting in the final, and almost like the script of a sports movie, fans were gifted the most anticipated matchup in baseball for the last out of the game.
It was the United States striking first, with Trea Turner continuing his remarkable tournament with a solo home run in the second inning. With it, he broke the US record for most home runs in a single WBC (five) and the most RBIs (11).
But their lead was short-lived, as 23-year-old Japan slugger Munetaka Murakami crushed a 432-foot bomb to tie the game with the first pitch in the bottom of the second frame.
With the final being played in Miami, the visiting team jumped ahead 2-1 later in the second through a Lars Nootbar RBI ground-out with bases loaded.
That score would hold until a solo home run from Kazuma Okamoto in the fourth inning to put Japan up 3-1, and while the United States finished with nearly double the amount of hits (nine against five), they failed to string them together and score.
The game was injected with life in the eighth inning as Kyle Schwarber put together a 10-pitch at-bat against Texas Rangers star Yu Darvish – including five foul balls in a row – before blasting a 436-foot homer to cut the lead to one.
All-Star Devin Williams pitched a clean eighth inning for the United States to reach the ninth with the scores still at 3-2, when Ohtani was sent out to close the show.
After a Jeff McNeil walk to open the inning, Ohtani got Mookie Betts to ground into a double-play, putting Japan one out away from securing their third WBC title.
The only thing standing in his way was Trout, and with the entire stadium on their feet – with a full count – Ohtani struck out the three-time AL MVP to collect the save.
Japan are the only team with more than one WBC crown, denying the United States a chance to tie them with two each, while the Dominican Republic also has one.