Every time, the World Baseball Classic championship seems to create another legend.
He may be best remembered in America for his days with the Red Sox, but Daisuke Matsuzaka rose to the occasion in the WBC's biggest moments, winning the tournament MVP Award twice. Before Edwin Encarnación was known as a parrot-toting slugger, he provided one of the biggest hits in Dominican Republic history. Marcus Stroman was already a budding ace entering the 2017 WBC before he etched his name into United States baseball history with his performance in the 2017 championship. Shohei Ohtani was already baseball's premier superstar before closing out Japan's 2023 championship and taking home MVP honors.
Here are all five WBC championship games, starting with the latest:
2023: Japan 3, United States 2 (box)
Key player: Shohei Ohtani (1 IP, 0 R, 1 SV as a pitcher, 1-3 with 1 BB as a hitter)
It was meant to end this way.
With the 2023 WBC title game and tournament on the line, Shohei Ohtani faced Mike Trout.With Japan holding a 3-2 Japan lead over Team USA, Ohtani, who entered from the bullpen to close the game, struck out Trout to secure Japan's third WBC title. Fittingly, an exhilarating tournament was capped by a heavyweight battle between two of baseball's generational talents and Angels teammates.
Japan responded quickly in the bottom of the second inning when Munetaka Murakami hit a 432-foot, game-tying home run. Lars Nootbaar's RBI groundout later in the inning gave Japan its first and final lead of the game.
Kazuma Okamoto's fourth-inning home run made it 3-1 Japan. The score stayed this way until Kyle Schwarber's eighth-inning solo home run made it a one-run game. This set up the matchup between Ohtani and Trout in the ninth inning.
When Ohtani completed Japan's victory, it finalized an undefeated 7-0 tournament run. Given the fierce competition in the 2023 tournament, Japan's third WBC title might have been its most impressive yet.
2017: United States 8, Puerto Rico 0 (box)
Key player: Marcus Stroman, USA (6 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 3 K)
For most of the 2017 tournament, Puerto Rico dominated – so much so that it entered the championship game with a perfect 7-0 record, one of those victories a 6-5 win over Team USA in pool play.
After giving up eight hits and four runs in 4 2/3 innings in the teams' first meeting, Stroman was electric in the championship, facing the minimum through six innings before Ángel Pagán led off the seventh inning with a double. It was the only hit Stroman allowed in his six-plus innings of work.
The 2013 WBC was a display of dominance for the Dominican Republic, which completed a perfect 8-0 run through the tournament with its win over Puerto Rico in the final – the D.R.’s third win over Puerto Rico in that year's tournament.
Encarnación started things off for the Dominicans with a two-run double in the first inning after Canó was intentionally walked in front of him. The D.R. added another run in the fifth inning on an RBI double from Erick Aybar.
While Canó went hitless in the championship game, he tallied 15 hits across eight games to earn MVP honors.
Although Ichiro was already a legend prior to the 2009 World Baseball Classic, his performance in the championship game added to that illustrious legacy. After Korea staged a dramatic comeback in the ninth inning off Yu Darvish to tie the game at 3, Ichiro played hero like he had so many times prior, knocking a two-out, two-strike single in the top of the 10th inning to give Team Japan a 5-3 lead.
After allowing a leadoff walk in the bottom of the inning, Darvish induced a flyout and two strikeouts to secure Team Japan’s victory. While Darvish was a jack of all trades in 2009 – he went 2-1 with a 2.08 ERA while both starting and serving as the team’s closer – Matsuzaka dominated for the second straight WBC to take home MVP honors. With the win, Matsuzaka became the first player to win a World Series and World Baseball Classic championship.
2006: Japan 10, Cuba 6 (box)
Key player: Daisuke Matsuzaka (4 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 5 K)
Three years before Matsuzaka earned his second WBC MVP, he introduced himself to the world with a dominant run at the inaugural tournament that ended with him recording five strikeouts in four innings against Cuba in the championship.
Matsuzaka was spotted a four-run lead before he took the mound thanks to Team Japan’s offense jumping all over Cuban starter Ormari Romero in the first inning.
Cuba fought back, scoring two runs in the sixth inning before Frederich Cepeda mashed a two-run home run in the eighth inning to cut Japan’s lead to 6-5 heading into the ninth.
Team Japan was able to put the game away in the ninth, when Ichiro and Kosuke Fukudome both recorded RBI hits as a part of a four-run inning.