Ohtani's MVP performance leads '23 All-Classic Team
MIAMI -- It had been seven years since Shohei Ohtani had last been called on to close out a game. His manager was the same then as the one calling the shots in the World Baseball Classic, Hideki Kuriyama. The situation was nearly as important then – the Nippon-Ham Fighters needed a win to advance to the 2016 Japan Series – with Ohtani coming in to face the last three Softbank Hawks batters after DH-ing all game.
On Tuesday, it was for the title of the world’s best. As usual, Ohtani stepped up to the challenge to close out the game in Japan’s 3-2 victory to earn the World Baseball Classic crown.
He ended the game in spectacular fashion, striking out Angels teammate and fellow superstar Mike Trout swinging on a 3-2 pitch.
Ohtani had already done everything one could hope for from the globe’s lone two-way superstar. He had helped Samurai Japan embrace its newest star, as Lars Nootbaar became the first non-Japanese-born player to suit up for the team.
“All you got to do is be born being able to throw at 100 mph and hit the ball 500 feet,” Nootbaar joked after the game. “There's really not that much going into it. But, no, he's exceeded all of my expectations. He's able to do stuff that I can't even dream of doing.”
The Angels star dominated at the plate, hitting .435 and drawing a truly absurd (and tournament-leading) 10 walks. He smashed a home run and legged out infield singles, extra-base hits and even stole bases.
And he did it on the mound, too. He started two games, he struck out 11 batters – and when the tournament was at its fever pitch and the matchup that every baseball fan had ever dreamed of coming true happened – Ohtani vs. Trout – he didn’t blink.
If ever there was someone who deserved the title of the World’s MVP, it’s Ohtani.
“What he's doing in the game is what probably 90 percent of the guys in that clubhouse did in Little League or in youth tournaments, and he's able to pull it off on the biggest stages,” USA manager Mark DeRosa said. “He is a unicorn to the sport. I think other guys will try it, but I don't think they're going to do it to his level.”
After Kyle Schwarber homered against Yu Darvish in the top of the eighth to cut Japan’s lead to one, the matchup was set. Trout would have to bat in the ninth. And Ohtani, who had raced to the bullpen and then back to the dugout to bat – legging out an infield single, natch – before heading back to the bullpen, simply had to pitch.
“When I was in Japan, of course I didn't run to the bullpen, but I do have the experience doing that,” Ohtani said, downplaying his remarkable achievement. “So, to go from the dugout and the bullpen and back and forth is not difficult for me.”
Jeff McNeil battled and drew a walk. The USA fans roared.
Mookie Betts, an MVP Award-winner, grounded into a double play. And somehow, the noise in the stadium just got louder.
And then Trout came to the plate. He took a big breath before stepping in, perhaps pausing to appreciate the moment or even just slow his heart down. No matter. The game was over.
“What blows me away on this stage is the fact that no moment's too big for him,” DeRosa said. “He did not seem rattled by walking Jeff McNeil on a close pitch, not rattled that three MVPs were coming up to bat.”
Before the game, Ohtani had spoken to his teammates and told them that they could beat the USA, that there was nothing to fear from this lineup and pitching staff featuring all Major League ballplayers.
“Just looking at the lineup of the great players made us feel like -- how do I say that? – obviously, we had respect, but at the same time, it looked like we might get beaten,” Ohtani said about the feeling around the clubhouse. “So, [I told them to] just forget about those kind of feelings. We're even. We have to just beat 'em.”
“... In my baseball life, [winning the World Baseball Classic was] one of the things that I wanted to achieve,” Ohtani said. “Today I was able to achieve one of the goals. Of course, I happened to to get the MVP, but this really proves that Japanese baseball can beat any team in the world.”
MVP wasn't the only thing announced after the thrilling conclusion to the Classic. We also learned who made the All-World Baseball Classic Team.
Both Trea Turner (USA) and Randy Arozarena (Mexico) were unanimously voted to the All-World Baseball Classic team. Turner tied a record with five home runs in a single Classic, slashing .391/.440/1.043 overall with 11 RBIs. Arozarena, for his part, matched a WBC record for doubles, with six, and hit .450/.607/.900 in his six games.
Masataka Yoshida, who paced Japan's potent offense, set a new single-tournament record with 13 RBIs and slashed .409/.531/.727 overall with a double and two home runs. Javier Báez (Puerto Rico) made his second career All-Tournament team, along with 2017, after hitting .368 (7-for-19) with three doubles, a home run and six RBIs.
Here is the complete 2023 All-World Baseball Classic team:
C: Salvador Perez (Venezuela)
1B: Yu Chang (Chinese Taipei)
2B: Javier Báez (Puerto Rico)
3B: Yoán Moncada (Cuba)
SS: Trea Turner (USA)
OF: Randy Arozarena (Mexico), Masataka Yoshida (Japan) and Mike Trout (USA)
DH: Shohei Ohtani (Japan)
P: Shohei Ohtani (Japan), Patrick Sandoval (Mexico), Miguel Romero (Cuba)