Ohtani, Samurai Japan Win 2023 World Baseball Classic

Japan and the United States, Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout, baseball’s two most dominant countries and two of its most iconic stars faced off in the WBC championship game. Samurai Japan bested Team USA in this one, winning 3-2 and claiming the World Baseball Classic Trophy.

Team USA and Samurai Japan Trade Early Blows

Team USA struck first in this one with a home run in the second inning by, who else, Trea Turner. He took a 91-mph fastball that missed down the middle and deposited it in the left field seats.

Unfortunately for Team USA, they weren’t able to build on that lead in the second inning, depite getting two more men on in the inning. To make matters worse for the United States, Japan tied the game on the very first pitch in the bottom half of the inning.

Samurai Japan’s slugging third baseman Munetaka Murakami demolished a fastball down the middle from Merrill Kelly for a home run. That ball was screaming off the bat, reaching an exit velocity of 115.1-mph and soared into the upper right field seats.

Kelly allowed three more hitters to reach base before manager Mark DeRosa decided to make a pitching change. Kelly managed to record only one out in the inning before leaving the game.

With the bases loaded and one out, reliever Aaron Loup came in to try to limit the damage. However, Samurai Japan outfielder Lars Nootbaar hit a groundball to first base, driving home the man at third base.

Loup managed to get the next hitter out to get out of the inning. After pitching a scoreless third inning, reliever Kyle Freeland came out for his second inning of work, aiming to keep the score where it was and to give Team USA some much needed innings before the weapons in their bullpen took over.

Samurai Japan Score an Insurance Run

Although he managed to pitch scoreless third and fifth innings, he wasn’t able to get through the fourth inning unscathed. Freeland threw a high and inside slider that caught too much of the strike zone and Samurai Japan first baseman Kazuma Okamoto made him pay.

Okamoto launched his solo home run over the left center field wall to give Japan a 3-1 cushion.

Following Freeland’s three innings of work, Jason Adam and David Bednar pitched the next two innings. Adam pitched around a bases-loaded jam in the sixth inning and Bednar pitched a scoreless seventh inning for Team USA.

Schwarber Gets One Back for the United States

In the eighth inning, Samurai Japan could started feeling the game was nearing its conclusion. However, Team USA wouldn’t go out without a fight.

Japan brought on Yu Darvish to pitch the eighth inning and he was able to get Nolan Arenado to fly out to right field for the first out. However, he had to face Team USA designated hitter Kyle Schwarber next. Schwarber gave Darvish fits as he fouled off six pitches and launched the tenth pitch of the at-bat for a monstrous home run.

His home run soared at 110.7 mph over the right center field wall towards the upper deck.

Darvish gave up a one out single to Turner, but he retired the next two batters to end the inning. Devin Williams came on in the bottom of the eighth inning and pitched a scoreless frame to give the United States one last chance to tie the game in the ninth inning.

Shohei Looks to Shut it Down

Team USA had their 9-1-2 hitters coming up in that inning. However, they had to contend with Samurai Japan superstar Ohtani, as he came out to try and close the game.

Traditionally a starting pitcher and designated hitter two-way player, Ohtani told reporters after their semifinal win against Mexico that he would be ready to pitch if and when his team needed him.

Well, in this spot, three outs away from securing Samurai Japan’s third WBC title, Japan manager Hideki Kuriyama called on his best player to finish the game.

He gave up a leadoff walk to Jeff McNeil before Team USA leadoff hitter Mookie Betts came up to bat. Betts proceeded to scorch a groundball up the middle at 104.8-mph. Unfortunately for Team USA, Japan was positioned perfectly, and they turned a double play to get the first two outs of the inning.

Ohtani vs Trout

Trout, Team USA’s captain, came up to the plate representing the United States’ last chance. Ohtani and Trout, Los Angeles Angels teammates, two of the best players in professional baseball, now faced each other for the first time.

Neither player has had a more pressure-filled moment in their professional career. Would three-time American League MVP Trout get the better of Ohtani and get on base or more? Would Ohtani find a way to get his long-time teammate out to win it all for his county?

Two giants of the baseball world, an unstoppable force in Ohtani met an immoveable object in Trout. Ohtani threw a sweeping slider for a ball to begin the at-bat. Then he pumped in four fastballs, clocking in at 99.8-mph, 99.8-mph, 100-mph, and 101.6-mph, two for balls and two for swinging strikes.

The baseball world watched as the count drew to 3-2. Then it happened, Ohtani reared back, then launched forward, unleashing an 87.2-mph sweeping slider to the lower outside corner of the strike zone, getting Trout to swing and miss for the final out of the World Baseball Classic.

“Whether I got him out or he got a hit off me, I didn’t want any regrets,” Ohtani said. “I just wanted to make my best pitch.”

Back on top of the baseball world, Japan won their third WBC title, after their 2006 and 2009 titles. Ohtani received World Baseball Classic MVP honors not only for his save, but for his incredible performance all tournament long.

“I believe this is the best moment in my life,” Ohtani said.

By the Numbers

Ohtani was an absolute monster in the 2023 WBC. In addition to throwing 9.2 innings, while giving up only two runs and striking out 11 batters, he hit .435 AVG/.606 OBP /1.345 OPS with four doubles, a home run, and 10 walks in the tournament.

Despite the loss, Turner was historic for Team USA. He hit a US WBC record five home runs and batted .391 AVG/.440 OBP/1.483 OPS. I’m sure defending the National League champion Phillies are excited to add him to their lineup.

MLB Opening Day is Around the Corner

Although the World Baseball Classic is over, it is confirmed to come back in the spring of 2026. Also, Trout and Ohtani said that they plan on comming back to represent their countries in that tournament as well.

The World Baseball Classic was a wonderful way to usher us into spring. MLB players who represented their countries are returning to their major league teams for the last week of spring training. MLB Opening Day, a day that marks the beginning of a 162-game long journey for millions of fans, coaches, and players, begins on March 30.

Jonathan Hoffman

Jonathan Hoffman is a graduate student at Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism. He's a lifelong Dodgers fan from Los Angeles who grew up in a family full of Phillies fans. Follow on Twitter/X and Instagram @JHoff100 if you also obsess over Clayton Kershaw and sports uniforms.

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