Japan baseball rules the world once again.
The Japanese won their third World Baseball Classic (out of five tournaments since the inaugural in 2006), taking down the United States, 3-2.
The game was a classic all night, and it ended in such a storybook way.
Everyone wondered if Shohei Ohtani would pitch. Well, he got the ball in the ninth for the save opportunity to clinch the Classic – while he had already been 1-for-3 with a walk – and he was due to face defending NL batting champion Jeff McNeil, 2018 AL MVP Mookie Betts, and his Los Angeles Angels teammate, three-time AL MVP Mike Trout.
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It was Ohtani's first relief appearance since 2016, and it didn't start off hot as he walked McNeil to lead off the inning and put the lead run at the plate. Bobby Witt Jr. pinch-ran, but it was moot as Betts grounded into a 4-6-3 double play.
Up came Trout, the matchup the entire baseball world hoped for all day long, and Ohtani was clearly ramped for it – he dialed a fastball up to 102 mph.
Ultimately, Ohtani won the battle, getting Trout to whiff on a 3-2 slider, giving Japan the World Baseball Classic trophy.
The game started out in the U.S' favor, as Trea Turner continued to put the country on his back, blasting a solo homer in the second to put the U.S up 1-0 – but the joy for the red, white, and blue was short-lived. He hit five homers in seven games throughout the tournament.
In the bottom half of the second, Merrill Kelly ran into trouble, loading the bases and was charged with two earned runs as manager Mark DeRosa went to the bullpen. In the fourth inning, Kazuma Okamoto drilled a solo blast to put Japan up 3-1.
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The U.S. had the lead run at the plate in the fifth inning, but Kyle Schwarber hit a can of corn on a 3-0 pitch for Japan to get out of the jam. In the sixth, USA reliever Jason Adam struck out his first two batters, but then walked the 7-9 hitters to load the bases, but he induced a Lars Nootbaar flyout to come away unscathed.
Pinch-hitter McNeil led off the seventh inning with a walk, and Betts followed with a single, but after Trout lined out, defending NL MVP Paul Goldschmidt grounded into an inning-ending double play.
The United States went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position on Tuesday, a situation where they had come up clutch throughout the tournament before the final.
Japan’s bullpen dominated all night, and in the eighth, they went with a starter to come into relief: Five-time All-Star Yu Darvish. However, he allowed a solo shot to Schwarber that made it a one-run ball game. Turner then reached on a bloop single, bringing the lead run to the plate, but J.T. Realmuto and Cedric Mullins recorded outs on the first pitch of their respective at-bats.
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Japan won the inaugural Classic as well as the second one in 2009. The Dominican Republic took home the trophy in 2013, and the U.S. won in 2017.