Top 10 games in World Baseball Classic history, ranked
Since its inception, the World Baseball Classic has been baseball's premier international tournament, bringing top stars the world over together on one stage.
And the 2023 tournament just gave us some of the WBC's greatest games yet.
Previously held in 2006, 2009, 2013 and 2017, the WBC came back with a vengeance this year, and the final two games of the tournament -- Japan's incredible walk-off win over Mexico in the semifinals, and its ensuing one-run win over Team USA in the championship -- were both instant classics.
Over the years, the WBC has given us plenty of big-time performances, unforgettable comebacks and shocking upsets, setting a high bar for iterations to come. Here's a ranking of the top 10 games in World Baseball Classic history.
1) Japan defeats Mexico 6-5 (2023 semifinal)
This game was a back-and-forth thriller that had absolutely everything. Twenty-one-year-old Japanese phenom Roki Sasaki started the game firing 102 mph fastballs -- only for Luis Urías to put Mexico up 3-0 with one big swing of the bat, a three-run homer in the fourth inning. As the game went on, every Japan comeback attempt was thwarted by the heroics of Randy Arozarena in left field -- including a sensational home run robbery of slugger Kazuma Okamoto.
But finally, in the bottom of the seventh, Japan got its own big swing: a majestic game-tying three-run home run off the foul pole by Masataka Yoshida with two outs and two strikes. And the drama was only just beginning. The very next inning, Mexico rallied to take the lead again off ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto, the best pitcher in Japan. They would take a 5-4 lead into the bottom of the ninth.
Who was leading off the ninth for Japan? Shohei Ohtani, of course. And Ohtani ripped a double off Mexico closer Giovanny Gallegos to get the game-winning rally started. Up next: Yoshida, who drew a walk to put the winning run on base and set the stage for Munetaka Murakami. Murakami, who last season hit 56 home runs to shatter Sadaharu Oh's single-season NPB record for the most by a Japanese-born player, had struggled mightily at the plate all Classic long. But he came through when it mattered most, ripping a walk-off two-run double off the center-field wall to send Samurai Japan to the WBC championship game.
2) Japan defeats South Korea 5-3 in 10 innings (2009 final)
A crowd of 54,846 witnessed a classic showdown at Dodger Stadium when Japan and South Korea met in the 2009 WBC final. It was a rubber match of sorts for the two countries after Japan eliminated Korea from the 2006 WBC and Korea returned the favor when the two teams matched up in the semifinals at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Japan was one out away from victory in the bottom of the ninth inning before Bum-ho Lee singled home the tying run against Yu Darvish, sending the game to extra innings. However, Ichiro Suzuki played the hero for Japan in the top of the 10th, lacing a two-out, two-strike single to center field that ultimately gave Japan its second straight WBC title.
3) United States defeats Dominican Republic 6-3 (2017 second round)
In a game best remembered for Adam Jones’ iconic catch to rob Manny Machado of a would-be homer in the bottom of the seventh inning, the United States knocked off the Dominican Republic to eliminate the defending WBC champs. With its dramatic loss to the D.R. earlier in the tournament fresh in its mind, Team USA fell behind 2-0 in the first but tied it up in the third and took a 4-2 lead on Giancarlo Stanton’s two-run homer in the fourth, a 117.3 mph missile off the Western Metal Supply Co. building in left field at Petco Park. Machado led off the bottom of the seventh with a deep fly ball that appeared to be headed over the wall in right-center field, but Jones soared through the air for an unforgettable grab, momentarily keeping Team USA’s lead at two runs before Robinson Canó followed with a solo blast to left. The U.S. added some insurance in the top of the eighth and held on for the victory, advancing to the semifinals en route to the WBC title.
4) United States defeats Puerto Rico 6-5 (2009 second round)
Days after Puerto Rico handed the U.S. a humbling mercy-rule loss, the two teams met again with a spot in the semifinals up for grabs. Just when P.R. looked poised for another victory, taking a 5-3 lead into the ninth, Team USA put together a thrilling rally that ended on a walk-off, two-run single from David Wright, who’d earn the nickname “Captain America” for his WBC exploits in 2009 and 2013.
5) Japan defeats United States 3-2 (2023 championship)
It seemed that there was no way for this game to live up to the hype that started building as soon as Japan won its semifinal game over Mexico. USA vs. Japan. Championship game. The team that won the first two WBC tournaments against the team that won the most recent one. MLB teammates turned international rivals in Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani. Yet it somehow lived up to that hype -- and then some.
Trea Turner started the game’s scoring with his fifth home run of the tournament, tying the single-WBC record previously set by Korea’s Seung Yuop Lee in 2006. But momentum quickly went back toward the Japanese squad, much thanks to a 115.1-MPH, 432-foot rocket by Munetaka Murakami, fresh off hitting a walk-off double the prior night to send Japan to the final.
After both team’s bullpens saw some success, we were treated to a scenario that sounds too good for even a movie: Ohtani vs. Trout, two outs, top of the ninth inning, one-run game, for all the marbles. And in perhaps the most anticipated at-bat in the history of the sport, Ohtani fanned his Angels teammate to clinch Japan’s third WBC title.
6) Netherlands defeats Dominican Republic 2-1 in 11 innings (2009 first round)
With a loaded roster led by MLB All-Stars such as Robinson Canó, David Ortiz and Hanley Ramírez, the Dominican Republic was the team many expected to win the WBC crown in 2009. But the Netherlands made sure the Dominican team didn’t even make it out of the first round. After the Netherlands edged the D.R. 3-2 earlier in the first round, the two countries matched up again in a win-or-go-home game that saw neither score for the first 10 innings. José Bautista broke the scoreless tie in the top of the 11th, but the Netherlands tied it up on Eugene Kingsale’s RBI single in the bottom of the frame and walked it off after D.R. first baseman Willy Aybar misplayed a sharp grounder behind the bag.
7) Israel defeats South Korea 2-1 in 10 innings (2017 first round)
Making its World Baseball Classic debut, Israel pulled off the biggest upset in WBC history with a dramatic victory over South Korea in Seoul to open the 2017 tournament. Scott Burcham delivered the go-ahead knock for Israel with two outs in the top of the 10th, and Josh Zeid threw three scoreless frames to earn the win. Israel continued its magical run with wins over Chinese Taipei and the Netherlands to advance from Pool A and won its first game of the second round before bowing out with losses to the Netherlands and Japan.
8) Puerto Rico defeats Netherlands 4-3 in 11 innings (2017 semifinal)
While this game went 11 innings, the turning point for Puerto Rico came in the first. The Netherlands jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the opening frame, but P.R.'s deficit could have been much worse if not for catcher Yadier Molina, who threw out two runners on the bases. The first out came after Molina caught Andrelton Simmons straying too far off second base, starting a rundown that ended when Simmons was tagged out between second and third. Jurickson Profar followed with a single to put runners on the corners with one out, but as he celebrated his hit, Molina threw behind him at first base to catch him off the bag. The next batter, Wladimir Balentien, swatted a two-run homer to put the Netherlands on the board, but Puerto Rico quickly knotted it up on a big fly by Carlos Correa in the bottom of the first. The two teams played to a 3-3 tie into extras before Eddie Rosario lifted a sacrifice fly to center field in the 11th, scoring Correa and putting Puerto Rico in the final.
9) Mexico defeats Puerto Rico 5-4 (2023 second round)
Team Mexico’s quarterfinal matchup against Puerto Rico went about as poorly as it could have gone for them, as Puerto Rico jumped out to an early 4-0 lead in the top of the first inning behind home runs from Javier Báez and Eddie Rosario on back-to-back pitches. But Team Mexico never blinked, thanks in large part to Isaac Parades. After getting Team Mexico on the board with a solo home run in the bottom of the second inning, Parades played hero in the seventh inning in the form of a two-out, two-run single to knot the score at 4 before Mexico took the lead a batter later on a Luis Urías single. Team Mexico was able to hold onto the lead and take home the win, with Randy Arozarena's incredible catch at the warning track and Giovanny Gallegos clinching the save with runners on first and second serving as the highlights from the final innings.
10) Dominican Republic defeats United States 7-5 (2017 first round)
Though the stakes were higher when these two teams squared off in the second round, this game deserves attention as well. After falling behind 5-0, the D.R. fought back to cut Team USA’s lead to two runs and pulled ahead on Nelson Cruz’s three-run homer off Andrew Miller in the bottom of the eighth inning. The win, part of an undefeated opening round for the D.R., made it clear the defending champs were going to be a tough out again.
Dominican Republic defeats Colombia 10-3 in 11 innings (2017 first round)
The third game on this list involving the 2017 Dominican team, this one was much closer than the final score makes it seem. Colombia tied the game on Jorge Alfaro's solo homer in the bottom of the eighth and was inches away from dealing the D.R. its first WBC loss since the 2009 tournament, but José Bautista’s accurate throw from left field and Welington Castillo’s slick tag at the plate prevented Oscar Mercado from scoring the game-winning run on a would-be sac fly in the bottom of the ninth. Two innings later, the D.R. erupted for seven runs to put Colombia away and earn its 11th straight WBC victory.
Italy defeats Mexico 10-9 (2017 first round)
After an early exit from the 2013 WBC due in part to a shocking loss to Italy in the first round, Mexico saw history repeat itself in the 2017 tournament, this time on its home turf. Facing Italy at Estadio de Béisbol Charros de Jalisco, Mexico took a 9-5 lead into the bottom of the ninth but was unable to put its counterpart away. Italy rallied for five runs, capped by a walk-off, two-run single from John Andreoli, to stun Mexico again.
Canada defeats United States 8-6 (2006 first round)
Despite having a roster consisting mostly of Minor Leaguers, Canada stunned heavily favored Team USA in the opening round of the inaugural World Baseball Classic. The Canadian squad raced out to an 8-0 lead, four of them driven in by Adam Stern, who had an inside-the-park homer in the fifth inning.
United States defeats Japan 2-1 (2017 semifinal)
Though it sent the defending champs packing with its win over the Dominican Republic in the second round, Team USA still had work to do to reach its first WBC final. Up next was Japan, unbeaten in its first six games of the tournament. Tanner Roark (four scoreless innings) and five relievers combined to hold Japan to one run on four hits, and the U.S. took the lead in the eighth on Adam Jones’ RBI groundout, continuing its march toward history.
Venezuela defeats Italy 11-10 in 10 innings (2017 first round)
One game after its remarkable comeback win against Mexico, Italy played another thriller, coming out on the losing end against Venezuela. The Venezuelan squad erased a 5-0 deficit and pulled ahead for good on Martín Prado’s 10th-inning double (his fifth hit of the day) after squandering 8-5 and 10-8 leads. The two teams would play again in a tiebreaker game two days later, and Venezuela prevailed in another one-run game after a ninth-inning rally to eliminate Italy and advance to the second round.
Puerto Rico defeats Japan 3-1 (2013 semifinal)
Facing the two-time defending champs, Puerto Rico ensured there wouldn't be a three-peat with a close win over Japan in the 2013 semis. Alex Rios had the big blow for P.R., crushing a two-run homer in the top of the seventh inning.
Dominican Republic defeats United States, 3-1 (2013 second round)
After an early exit from the 2009 World Baseball Classic, the D.R. came back with a vengeance in 2013, winning all eight games it played on its way to its first WBC title. The United States gave the Dominican team one of its toughest matchups, as the two sides played to a 1-1 tie through eight innings in this second-round game. The D.R. rallied against Craig Kimbrel in the top of the ninth, with Erick Aybar and José Reyes delivering RBI singles after Nelson Cruz doubled to lead off the frame.
Dominican Republic defeats Italy 5-4 (2013 second round)
Despite Italy’s best efforts, the Dominican team’s undefeated run through the 2013 WBC continued as it stormed back after falling behind 4-0 in the first inning. After José Reyes and Robinson Canó hit solo homers in the third and sixth, respectively, the D.R. pulled ahead with a three-run seventh capped by Nelson Cruz’s go-ahead single.
Cuba defeats Dominican Republic 3-1 (2006 semifinal)
After narrowly edging Puerto Rico in San Juan to advance to the semifinals, Cuba won another close one against the D.R., scoring three times in the seventh and holding on for the victory to move on to a championship game matchup against Japan.