World Baseball Classic
Japan edges USA in epic WBC final, capped by Ohtani striking out Trout
World Baseball Classic

Japan edges USA in epic WBC final, capped by Ohtani striking out Trout

Updated Mar. 24, 2023 2:27 a.m. ET

MIAMI — All anyone could think and talk about leading up to the World Baseball Classic championship game was the enticing possibility of two-way icon Shohei Ohtani looming on the mound, 60 feet, six inches away from his Los Angeles Angels teammate, three-time MVP Mike Trout.

So, of course, the way it played out was that these two baseball legends, best in the game at what they do, clashed in the top of the ninth inning with two outs and Team USA trailing Samurai Japan by one run. If it didn’t actually happen before our eyes Tuesday night in Miami, it would be easier to believe the situation was scripted. The at-bat was, quite simply, the matchup of a lifetime.

Ohtani, now serving as closer after going 1-for-3 with a walk as Japan's DH, was announced on the loanDepot park PA system and the crowd roared before nearly every single fan in the ballpark stood up to watch the peak of baseball greatness. All at once, "U-S-A" chants broke out. And then it happened. Representing the final out, Trout nodded at Ohtani and stepped to the plate.

Slider, fastball, fastball, fastball, fastball. 


With the count 3-2, Ohtani went back to his slider, a nasty 87 mph pitch that Trout swung through. 

"Whether I got him out or he got a hit off me, I didn't want to have any regrets, I just wanted to make my best pitch," Ohtani said afterward through a translator.

His entire sequence, which included a 102 mph fastball and an equally rare three swinging strikes, completely overmatched the greatest hitter of this generation and secured Japan's 3-2 title win over the defending champion Americans. The euphoria of the moment prompted Ohtani to lift his arms and throw his hat and glove away before his teammates bombarded him in celebration on the mound.

"He won round one," Trout said. "Tough night for us, but we'll be back."

Japan boasts a record three WBC crowns amid the tournament's five installments, with Tuesday's thrilling finish coming just hours after MLB commissioner Rob Manfred confirmed the WBC will return in 2026.

"I believe this is the best moment in my life," said Ohtani, who was selected MVP of the tournament. 

Shohei Ohtani talks matchup against Trout and WBC championship victory

Shohei Ohtani talks with the "MLB on FOX" crew about striking out Angels teammate Mike Trout in the World Baseball Classic final to seal Japan's championship win over Team USA.

This marked the 28-year-old’s first time playing for Japan because an ankle injury that required surgery kept him sidelined during the 2017 WBC. But Ohtani had dreams of playing in the WBC — and winning MVP — since he was in high school.

The 2021 American League MVP made three appearances on the mound in the WBC, including two starts, and went 2-0 with a 1.86 ERA, permitting two runs on five hits with two walks and 11 strikeouts over 9.2 innings pitched. At the plate, Ohtani hit .435 with four doubles, a home run, eight RBI, nine runs scored, one stolen base, a .606 on-base percentage and a .739 slugging percentage. 

As Samurai Japan celebrated with a champagne shower in one clubhouse, the other side of the stadium featured a somber United States team saying goodbye to a tourney that felt like postseason baseball in March. USA was in position to come back and win it all with Trout at the plate and Jeff McNeil, who had the best at-bat of the game against Ohtani, on first base after drawing a walk. For the Americans, the ending was abrupt and disappointing. But they had their chances.

"I'm proud of every single one of 'em. They gave us a chance tonight," Team USA rookie manager Mark DeRosa said. "We threw the ball well. We just didn't get the big hit. We didn't swing the bats great tonight. Credit to them, though. They were bringing in some nasty dudes."

Mark DeRosa says he is extremely proud of how Team USA came together

Despite taking the 3-2 loss in the title game to Japan, Mark DeRosa expressed his appreciation for Team USA's great effort in the World Baseball Classic.

Trea Turner homered again, his fifth long ball of the WBC, but his solo shot alone wasn’t enough to overcome USA's deficit. The Americans had a few other chances to make Japan pay, but hitters were missing some gifts in the heart of the zone. USA's lineup seemed outmatched, if a little nervous, by Japan’s pitching staff, particularly against the arms it was unfamiliar with.

By the time a familiar face in 11-year MLB veteran Yu Darvish took the mound in the eighth inning, USA was down to its final six outs. Kyle Schwarber, consistently clutch in big moments, had something to say about that. With one out and USA trailing Japan by two runs, Schwarber, after some loud foul balls, launched a Darvish offering into the right-field upper deck, trimming the deficit to 3-2. The rally ended shortly after, however, as both J.T. Realmuto and Cedric Mullins flew out to end the inning.

"The fans won tonight," DeRosa said. "I'm chapped we didn't win."

USA vs. Japan WBC championship game highlights

Since some of the star players in USA’s lineup have already verbally committed to playing in the next WBC in three years, perhaps next time they can do a better job of recruiting equally talented starting pitchers. 

It didn’t take much for USA to fall behind Japan in Tuesday’s championship game, but the two runs surrendered by starter Merrill Kelly, including a 92-mph meatball to Munetaka Murakami that he deposited for a solo home run, were enough to put the Americans in an early hole. Kelly retired just four batters and allowed five baserunners. Kyle Freeland gave Team USA three innings but also gave up a solo home run, to slugger Kazuma Okamoto. Japan had just five hits in total.

The championship game was truly that tight. With the two best baseball countries in the world facing off for the title, mistakes must be limited or nonexistent. USA couldn’t afford to give Japan an advantage, no matter how small a window it had to succeed. 

"This really proves that Japanese baseball," Ohtani said, "can beat any team in the world." 

Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets as a beat reporter for the New York Daily News. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.

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