USA, Japan poised to give baseball fans one shining moment
We get a game on Tuesday night at loanDepot park that will feel, for one baseball night in March, like the championship of the whole world, the championship game that most of us wanted to see at the start of the World Baseball Classic. It will be Team USA vs. Team Japan. It will be Mike Trout vs. his teammate Shohei Ohtani, the biggest baseball star in this world. It will be all that in Miami. They’ll have your March Madness right there.
It will be the team, Japan, that won the first two World Baseball Classics. It will be a USA team trying to make it two WBC titles in a row. And it was all set up Monday night in Miami by a truly wonderful baseball moment, when Japan kept coming back and finally scored six runs in the last three innings to defeat Mexico, 6-5, on a walk-off double off the “World Baseball Classic” sign in left-center hit by Munetaka Murakami.
Of course, it had to be Ohtani flying around the bases with the tying run because he had led off the bottom of the ninth with a double on the first pitch he saw from Giovanny Gallegos.
“I was just looking for something to drive,” Ohtani said through his translator when it was over, and he had just shown as much excitement on a ballfield as we’ve ever seen from him; when the greatest two-way player since Babe Ruth looked like a happy Little League kid. Of course, it had to be him starting off the rally for his team that would put his team in the finals on Tuesday night.
So, Japan came back on Monday night the way Team USA came back the other night against Venezuela because of Trea Turner’s grand slam. So now it is the two stars of the Angels, Trout and Ohtani, Ohtani and Trout, playing against each other in a game that is going to feel like a real one-game World Series. Japan keeps sending such wonderful players to this country to play in the big leagues here. Now those players will play for their own country in Miami, against a truly loaded Team USA.
And Mike Trout, who has only played three postseason games in his entire Angels career, who has just one postseason hit (a home run) in his storied career, will get a moment like this in Miami that is going to feel as big for him as everybody else playing in it. And maybe bigger for Trout, the guy we call Captain America.
Everybody knows what happened to Edwin Díaz in that postgame celebration after Puerto Rico beat the Dominican Republic last week, a knee injury that likely ended his season. We saw what happened to Jose Altuve when Daniel Bard hit him on the hand with an inside fastball that got away from Bard, breaking the thumb on Altuve’s right hand. But even after what happened to his Mets teammate, Francisco Lindor stood up and stepped up and talked about how much it meant to him to be playing for his country.
And now for the last several days, we have seen all of that on display, in the incredible atmosphere in Miami, first USA’s comeback and then the one on Monday night. Mexico was ahead, 3-0, because of a three-run home from Luis Urías. Japan came back to tie on a three-run home from Masataka Yoshida, who will really begin his big league career for the Red Sox when this tournament ends, and has been as much of a star for the Japanese team has Ohtani has been.
Then Randy Arozarena, who had pulled what looked like a home run back from the top of the left-field wall, got a big hit and there was another big hit and then Mexico was back ahead. So it was 5-4 in the bottom of the ninth and here came Ohtani because it had to be him, lacing one nearly all the way to the right-field wall. It looked like a triple when he hit it, as he raced out of the box and flipped his helmet back over his head. He stopped at second. Yoshida walked. There was a pinch-runner, Ukyo Shuto. Then came Murakami, who only hit 56 homers for his Yakult Swallows in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball last season.
And as soon as Murakami hit it, you knew that Japan was on its way to the final. Ohtani could have walked home. Shuto read Murakami’s ball all the way, and made you think he might pass Shohei Ohtani on his way to scoring the winning run. And then everybody on Team Japan, starting with Shohei Ohtani, went a little bit mad at loanDepot park.
It had been all the semifinal game for which you could have asked on Monday night. Now we get the final that everybody wanted to see from the time they started playing these games; certainly this is the game they wanted to see in Japan, where more than 60 million viewers watched Team Japan vs. the team from Korea at the start of the thing. Only one night left in the WBC. What feels like a one-night only baseball event. In March. Try telling these players it’s not the championship of the world.