ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?
But before we recap last night’s all-time classic, let’s set up tonight’s final. Team USA will take on Japan for the 2023 WBC title. Team USA is the defending champion. Samurai Japan has won two WBC titles, in 2006 and 2009. The game starts at 6 p.m. Central time and is broadcast on FS1.
Between the audience in Japan, the US and the rest of the world, tonight’s game is likely to be the most-watched baseball game of all time. Yes, the majority of that audience will be in Japan, but there should be a solid audience in the US and elsewhere.
Diamondbacks right-hander Merrill Kelly will start for the Americans, but pretty much all of Team USA’s fearsome bullpen will be available. Yokohama BayStars lefty Shota Imanaga will start for Japan, but Yu Darvish is expected to pitch in relief. Whether Shohei Ohtani is available to pitch seems to be a state secret, but it would not be a surprise to see him pitch an inning.
Expect both teams to treat this game like the seventh game of a World Series. Neither manager will stay with their starter for long if they get into trouble. Japan manager Hideki Kuriyama used two relievers, Atsuki Yuasa and Taisei Ota, for eight and twelve pitches last night respectively. It’s unclear at this point whether either will be available for tonight’s game.
And yes, for the first time, the two greatest players of the game, Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, will face each other on opposite teams.
Who ya got?
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Last night’s 6-5 win by Japan will go down in World Baseball Classic history. No, it will go down in baseball history.
Coming into the game, Japan starter Roki Sasaki got much of the attention from the American press as it was the first time the 21-year-old phenom pitched in the US. There were a reported 64 representatives of major league teams at the game.
Although Roki Sasaki is most likely not coming to the majors until after the 2026 season, 64 representatives of major leagues teams will be in attendance to watch him pitch@Ken_Rosenthal has more on the young Japanese superstar ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/lx9RXzTAvM— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) March 20, 2023
The kid did not disappoint.
Roki Sasaki has thrown 20 fastballs. Here is the velocity on them.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) March 20, 2023
Yes, you're seeing that correctly: 19 of 20 at 100 mph-plus. Average velocity: 100.5 mph.
Those were the first 20 fastballs. Sasaki was still throwing when Passan tweeted that out. He would throw harder.
Here’s an example.
But while Mexico starter Patrick Sandoval doesn’t have Sasaki’s velocity, he pitched just as effectively. And as good as Sasaki was, he was not unhittable. With two out in the fourth inning, Mexico got two runners on with weak singles by Rowdy Tellez and Isaac Paredes.
But there was nothing weak about this blast from Luis Urías.
Japan started to get to Sandoval in the bottom of the fifth inning. In fact, Kazuma Okamoto looked to have gotten Japan on the board, but left fielder Randy Arozarena had other ideas.
After Arozarena robbed the home run, Japan put the next two runners on with a single and a walk. That was the end of the night for Sandoval, who was then relieved by José Urquidy.
Urquidy got a ground out from Shugo Maki and then walked Lars Nootbaar to load the bases with two outs. But once again, Arozarena got between Japan and the scoreboard.
Arozarena put the time during the pitching change to good use.
Randy Arozarena just robbed a home run and is now signing autographs in the middle of the game. The term “legend” gets thrown around a lot. Randy is a legend. pic.twitter.com/1jUgImvS1Y— Jared Carrabis (@Jared_Carrabis) March 21, 2023
Mexico still led 3-0 in the bottom of the seventh when new Red Sox outfielder Masataka Yoshida faced Cardinals reliever JoJo Romero with two men on. Yoshida banged a three-run home run off the right-field foul pole.
But the game wasn’t tied for long. In the top of the eighth, Arozarena and Alex Verdugo hit back-to-back doubles to make it 4-3 Mexico.
Isaac Paredes would then single home Verdugo to make it 5-3, but Joey Meneses was thrown out trying to score on the play by Yoshida.
Not getting that extra insurance run would prove costly for Mexico.
Japan cut Mexico’s lead to 5-4 in the bottom of the eighth inning. The first two batters reached against reliever Jesus Cruz, followed by a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly by Hotaka Yamakawa.
That set up the dramatic bottom of the ninth. All-Star reliever Giovanny Gallegos came on for the save against the heart of the Japanese order: Shohei Ohtani, Masataka Yoshida and Munetaka Murakami.
Then Yoshida walked and was replaced by pinch-runner Ukyo Shuto.
That brought up Murakami, who was the Central League Triple Crown winner last season. He also hit 56 home runs, which is a record for a Japanese-born player in NPB. (Wladimir Balentien hit 60 in 2013) But Murakami was not having a good WBC. He was 4 for 21 with two doubles coming in to this at bat. He had walked six times, but he’d also struck out 11 times.
Murakami did this. Be sure to listen to all five calls. Or at least stick with it until the Japanese one comes on.
So we are getting the matchup that it seems like the World Baseball Classic was created for. Japan versus USA. Shohei Ohtani versus Mike Trout. I don’t see how this game can live up to last night’s classic, but this tournament has surprised me before.