Allow Masataka Yoshida to introduce himself to the world

Red Sox signee slugs crucial homer, sets Classic RBI record

March 21st, 2023

MIAMI – He may stand just 5-foot-8, but he’s armed with a whip-like swing and an advanced approach at the plate.

Trailing by three runs, with Japan seemingly unable to break through despite threatening almost every inning, Masataka Yoshida stepped to the plate on Monday night. With that signature swing, he lifted the ball down the right-field line for a game-tying three-run shot, and suddenly life was returned to Samurai Japan en route to a dramatic 6-5 walk-off victory over Mexico in an instant-classic World Baseball Classic semifinal.

The home run continued an incredibly hot tournament for the Red Sox free agent signing and gave him a new tournament record with 13 RBIs. That broke Wladimir Balentien’s mark of 12 RBIs, which he set in 2017 playing for the Netherlands.

Yoshida has seemingly faced no pitcher who can beat him – his slash line in the tournament is a remarkable .474/.571/.842 – but he admitted to feeling plenty of nerves when he stepped up to the plate in that huge situation. 

“I know my hand was a little shivering,” Yoshida said. “But I know that there was a good connection … I remember I stepped into the box with a belief in myself.”

While the outfielder may be the next Japanese superstar to arrive in the Major Leagues, he’s far from the last. The team’s brightest stars on Monday night all came through in the victory, and many of them have the talent and desire to make it to the Majors.

“There are a bunch of young players that definitely could compete on the international level,” manager Hideki Kuriyama told “I definitely want them to excel in this tournament and become the world-class stars that I believe that they should be."

First among them is Roki Sasaki (4 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 K), the 21-year-old fireballer who nearly threw back-to-back perfect games in NPB last season and who hit 102 mph on the radar gun in Monday’s action. He ran into some bad luck in the start, with Luis Urías’ fourth-inning three-run home run coming after a single through the infield shift and a bloop hit over third baseman Munetaka Murakami’s head.

Though Sasaki hasn’t said when he plans to come to the Major Leagues, he’s made it clear it’s on his mind.

“As for timing, I think I will play in Japan, and then I think something will become clear when I'm going to shift over [to America],” Sasaki said earlier this week, adding that Shohei Ohtani has counseled him on the move.

Back-to-back Sawamura Award winner (Japan’s version of the Cy Young Award) Yoshinobu Yamamoto relieved Sasaki and showed why he’s an NPB ace – and somehow, only No. 4 in Team Japan’s loaded rotation. Expected to be posted at the end of this year, Yamamoto used his mid-90s fastball and dynamite splitter en route to three shutout innings, before Mexico’s electric offense touched him for two runs in the top of the eighth to retake the lead.

“It’s the same for every country in the WBC, but because they’re not warmed up for the season and because of so many matches, pitchers can’t [pitch deep into games,]” Kuriyama said. “I think pitchers feel it in the third or fourth inning of work and we need to get a reliever throwing. But as you can see, those are two great pitchers.”

Fortunately for Team Japan, after Ohtani doubled to lead off the bottom of the ninth and Yoshida walked, the power-hitting third baseman Murakami came to the plate. Just 23 years old, Murakami is coming off a remarkable season, breaking Sadaharu Oh’s revered record for most home runs by a Japanese-born player in NPB with 56 last season.

While he’s struggled in the tournament so far, when the team needed him most Murakami delivered. He bashed the game-winning two-run double off the outfield wall – just barely missing his first home run of the tournament.

“I was thinking about the bunting, but coach Kuriyama told us, ‘Just to do what you can.’ I made my mind, and so when I hit the ball, I was hoping it was going to go into the stands, but I guess I didn't have enough power to hit the ball out of the stadium. I know that [pinch-runner Ukyo Shuto] was a really fast runner, so I figured we would win.”

“Of course Murakami is definitely a great batter,” Kuriyama said. “He can hit in the critical moments. I don't know how the people in the U.S. baseball world will view this, but I strongly believe that those players can play there.”