Shohei Ohtani came out of the bullpen and fanned out his Los Angeles Angels teammate Mike Trout for the final out in a matchup the entire baseball world wanted to see, and led Japan over defending champion United States 3- 2 on Tuesday night for the first time. World Baseball Classic title since 2009.
Ohtani, the two-way star who has captivated fans on two continents, was voted WBC MVP and clutched the award to his chest.
Ohtani hit an infield single in the seventh inning as designated hitter before walking down the left-field line to the Japan bullpen to warm up for his third mound appearance of the tournament.
Showing off his 100 mph heat, Ohtani walked Major League Baseball batting champion Jeff McNeil to start the ninth before Mookie Betts grounded into a double play.
Trout, the US captain and three-time MVP, finished the game by striking out on a full-count breaking ball. Ohtani’s only other save came in a 2016 Japan postseason game. Ohtani,he hit .435 with one home run, four doubles, eight RBIs and 10 walks as Japan joined the Dominican Republic in 2013 to become the only undefeated champions of baseball’s premier national team tournament. Ohtani, the 2021 AL MVP, went 2-0 with one save and a 1.86 ERA on the mound, striking out 11 in 9 2/3 innings.
Japan went 7-0 and outscored their opponents 56-18, reaching the final for the first time since winning the first two WBC titles in 2006 and 2009. No other nation has won the title more than once.
Munetaka Murakami and Kazuma Okamoto homered as Japan built a 3-2 lead.
Trea Turner put the US ahead in the second with his record-tying fifth home run of the tournament, and Kyle Schwarber pulled the Americans within a run when he went deep in the eighth off Yu Darvish.
It was the second straight major title for the Japanese, who beat the US 2-0 in Yokohama for the 2021 Olympic gold medal. Japan used the best players in that tournament, while the US sent players Major League Baseball released and top prospects.
Turner put the USA ahead in the second inning with a shot to left off Shota Imanaga (1-0), tying South Korea’s Seung Yuop Lee in 2006 for the most in a WBC. That lit up a crowd of 36,098 who packed the gates: fans were given wristbands with flashing colored lights.
Murakami, the 23-year-old and two-time Central League MVP, tied the score on the first pitch of the bottom half when Merrill Kelly (0-1) popped up a fastball. Murakami drove it at 115.1 mph into the upper deck of right field, 432 feet away.
Murakami’s game-ending double lifted Japan over Mexico 6-5 in Monday night’s semifinal and his third-inning homer off Nick Martinez put Japan ahead in the 2021 gold medal game.
Japan loaded the bases in the second on singles by Okamoto and Sosuke Genda, and a walk to Yuhei Nakamura. Lars Nootbaar, the first non-Japanese-born player to appear for the Samurai Warriors, followed with a run-scoring groundout off Aaron Loup for a 2-1 lead.
Okamoto increased the lead in the fourth when he sent Kyle Freeland’s slider flat over the wall in left-center field.
Japan were outhited 9-5 as Imanaga combined with six relievers to hold the USA to 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position. The 29-year-old lefty and Shosei Togo each pitched two innings, Hiroto Takahashi, Hiromi Itoh and Taisei Ota each got three outs, and Ota escaped a two-and-no-out jam by retiring Trout on a fly out and throwing out Paul. . Goldschmidt to roll into a double play.
Trout and Ohtani embraced behind the batting cage during pregame workouts, then held their nation’s flag as they led their teams to home plate in single file during introductions, Trout on the right-field line and Ohtani in the left.
Several thousand fans had arrived hours earlier to watch Ohtani take batting practice and cheered when he hit a drive that came off the video board on the second deck in center.
Trout hit .296 in the tournament with one home run, seven RBIs, and 12 strikeouts.
Japan gets $3 million in prizes and the US $1.7 million. Half of each goes to the players, the other half to the national baseball federation.