Japan beats Mexico in a thriller, will face USA in the World Baseball Classic Final
Japan scored two late runs in the final inning to edge Mexico in a dramatic semifinal. They’ll face team USA in the final.
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The World Baseball Classic delivered a semifinal thriller with a raucous crowd in Miami as Japan defeated Mexico 6-5 on Monday night, March 20, to advance to the 2023 World Baseball Classic finals.
Japan will now play the United States in Tuesday night’s Championship game. USA blew out Cuba in the other semifinal this past Sunday. Japan is the only multi-time champion (two) in WBC history. The reigning champions, U.S., however, can tie the score with a tonight.
Japan and Mexico starting pitchers, Roki Sasaki and Patrick Sandoval, kept both sides scoreless through the first three innings. Mexico would open the scoring off a three-run home run by Luis Urías.
Mexico were able to keep the Japanese side at bay offensively, in part, because of a pair of good catches from Mexico’s sta, Randy Arozarena, including one at the wall.
Japan finally tied the game in the bottom of the seventh on a Masataka Yoshida three-run shot off reliever JoJo Romero.
With that hit, he became the WBC single-tournament leader in runs batted in. Mexico, who were comeback kings in their quarterfinal win against Puerto Rico, came right back as Arozarena and Alex Verdugo hit back to back doubles in the top of the eighth to give the Mexicans the lead.
But sports can deliver heartbreaking moments.
Japan would score after a Hotaka Yamakawa sacrifice fly in the bottom of the eighth to bring the game to within one.
It was up to Mexico’s closer, Giovanny Gallegos, to kill the game off, but unfortunately the greatness of superstar Shohei Ohtani came through, delivering a leadoff double, followed by a walk to Masataka Yoshida, and a walk-off double to Munetaka Murakami.
And that was the ballgame.
Mexico, who was the sole Latin American team left in the tournament, nevertheless, had a great tournament. It was one of their most successful runs ever at the tournament. It was their first ever semifinals appearance and they battled one of the top two teams on the planet to the very end.
This is something that Mexico manager Benji Gil expressed in his postgame comments.
"We have to tip our hats to the Japanese team," Gil said. "Neither team deserved to lose, but someone had to win. Both teams had a great performance, great pitching from both sides, and at no point in time, neither team gave up or surrendered.”
"I think that Japan moves on, but the world of baseball won today,” he added.
Japan will now go toe-to-toe against defending champion Team USA, pitting Angels teammates, Ohtani and Mike Trout, batting against each other for the title.
With Team USA looking to repeat, Japan has a chance to become the first nation with three world titles.
“[I’m] proud to be wearing Japan across my chest, proud to be playing against the U.S., and I think it's good for baseball,” Japan outfielder Lars Nootbaar said ahead of the final.
“I think it's good that Japan versus the U.S. is going to be in the finals,” he added. “And personally, I've got some friends and got some teammates over there too, so it's even more special and more exciting.”
Ohtani said that he’d be able to pitch in relief, but there is no certainty he will be used.
“Mentally, I will be prepared to throw,” Ohtani said after Monday’s victory. “But I’m obviously DHing, so it’s going to be hard to find a time to get hot in the bullpen.”
USA will look to keep the same squad from their final four win in the final.
Mookie Betts, RF
Mike Trout, CF
Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
Nolan Arenado, 3B
Kyle Schwarber, LF
Will Smith, C
Pete Alonso, DH
Tim Anderson, 2B
Trea Turner, SS
While Japan is not expected to make any changes as he has not done so at all this tournament.
Lars Nootbaar, CF
Kensuke Kondoh, RF
Shohei Ohtani, DH
Masataka Yoshida, LF
Munetaka Murakami, 3B
Kazuma Okamoto, 1B
Tetsuto Yamada, 2B
Sosuke Genda, SS
Yuhei Nakamura, C