Japan tops Team USA in dramatic finish to claim 3rd Classic title

March 22nd, 2023

MIAMI -- In the end, it all came down to vs. .

The Angels teammates squared off for the final at-bat of the 2023 World Baseball Classic in a legendary matchup between two of the game's powerhouses as a sellout crowd of 36,098 at loanDepot park and fans around the world followed every delivery of the ball in anticipation.

Ohtani stifled a swinging Trout with an 87.2 mph sweeper in a full count with two outs -- pumped his first, threw his glove and then his hat in jubilation -- and Team Japan hoisted the trophy to celebrate its third tournament championship with a 3-2 victory over Team USA.

"I've seen Japan winning, and I just wanted to be part of it," said Ohtani. "I really appreciate that I was able to have the great experience. As I say, the next generation, the kids who are playing baseball, I was hoping that those people would like to play baseball. That would make me happy."

Undefeated Japan topped reigning champ USA for its first title since winning back-to-back titles in 2006 and '09. It's the only team to clinch multiple championships and improved to 30-8 all-time in the WBC.

Ohtani was named MVP for posting the best statistics in the entire tournament, a childhood dream of the 28-year-old.

"I happened to be able to get the MVP," Ohtani said. "But this really proves that Japanese baseball can beat any team in the world."

Japan, a team that dominated the scoreboards in pool play, demonstrated its resilience by forging its second rally in as many days following an epic walk-off battle against Mexico in the semifinals.

"Winning today is obviously the most important," said . "But the fact that we were able to go undefeated through the whole time, beat a great Mexico team yesterday, come back today and then play against, obviously, maybe the greatest lineup that's ever been assembled in baseball history makes it sweet that we did it undefeated, for sure."

Hot-hitting  got USA on the board in the second inning with a solo blast 406 feet to left field off Shota Imanaga. It was his third homer in the last three games and a record-tying fifth in a single WBC.

Munetaka Murakami responded in the bottom of the frame by going yard against Merrill Kelly – a solo shot that flew 432 feet to right-center field at 115.1 mph. Nootbar gave Japan the edge by driving in Kazuma Okamoto on a groundout against reliever Aaron Loup.

Kazuma Okamoto provided an insurance run with a solo homer in the fourth versus Kyle Freeland.

The game was far from over. USA put on the pressure in the eighth when pummeled a splitter from Yu Darvish 436 feet to right-center in a 10-pitch at-bat to make it a one-run contest.

Enter Ohtani, who had only closed a game in 2016 for the Nippon-Ham Fighters, to shut down the event in astonishing fashion. Ohtani worked his slugging big league teammate into a 3-2 count and closed the door with a swing-and-a-miss.

"That's obviously fun, obviously didn't come out the way I wanted to. You know, I think as a baseball [fan] everybody wanted to see it. He won round one," Trout said with a laugh.

Japan set the tone for its tournament play with an 8-1 victory over China in opening action in Tokyo. It closed out Pool B play with wins over Korea (13-4), Czech Republic (10-2) and Australia (7-1).

Japan knocked out Italy (9-3) in the quarterfinals to punch its ticket to single-elimination play in Miami. A 6-5 victory against Mexico on Monday sent Japan to the championship game.

"It feels like I'm living in a dream right now," said Nootbar. "It's pretty unbelievable. To be able to win the third one for Japan makes it even sweeter."

The close-knit teammates will part ways from Miami: Four players will return to Major League camps, others will showcase their talents on the international stage. The magnitude of what they accomplished in the 2023 WBC will stay with them as they play baseball this season -- and until they compete to defend their title in 2026.

"Of course, I believe this is the best moment in my life, and just because we won today, though," Ohtani said. "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."