Shohei Ohtani strikes out Mike Trout to win WBC Championship

Shohei Ohtani Mike Trout

Miami, Florida – In a battle between greats, Shohei Ohtani outdueled Mike Trout as Samurai Japan edged Team USA 3-2 to win the 2023 World Baseball Classic. With the count full, Ohtani got Captain America swinging on a slider to capture the country’s third title in tournament history. The nailbiter was the culmination of two weeks’ worth of intense competition whittled down to familiar foes. For monumental his efforts, the two-way superstar was awarded WBC MVP.

Despite their star-studded lineup, the United States’ high-powered offense was stifled throughout the night. The US went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position. In a bout where nearly every run was a long ball, the Japanese did just enough to outlast the Americans. Yu Darvish pitched in the eighth limiting the heart of the order to a solo shot from Kyle Schwarber successfully protecting their slim lead.

One For the Ages

Both teams opened up the scoring by trading home runs in the second inning. Trea Turner hammered his fifth homer of the tourney, a shot to left field, gifting the Americans the early lead. Japan’s Munetaka Murakami, meanwhile, smoked his first career WBC dinger to right-center tying the game. He timed Merrill Kelly’s first pitch launching it into the crowded upper deck.

Things did not go according to plan for the US. The Japanese chased off Kelly before the third. Yuhei Nakamura drew the one-out bases-loaded walk forcing coach Mark DeRosa to call on the bullpen. Aaron Loup held the line, however, mitigating the damage to a singular run on the Lars Nootbaar ground out escaping the inning.

Samurai Japan extended its advantage with another bomb in the fourth, this time from Kazuma Okamoto.

Team USA’s big inning remained elusive. Turner struck out in the third stranding two runners. The fifth proved equally frustrating for the offense. Trout uncharacteristically chased a bad pitch, striking out to a splitter. Paul Goldschmidt struck out looking. To top it all off, Schwarber swung at a 3-0 pitch popping out to center field, stranding another pair.

The United States’ best opportunity appeared at the top of the seventh inning. With Jeff McNeil and Mookie Betts aboard Trout lined out to right field followed by Goldschmidt grounding into a rally-killing 6-4-3 double-play. The Stars and Stripes showed life in the eighth. A very patient Schwarber battled Darvish, outdueling him after hitting six foul balls. His success at the plate brought the US to within a run. Ultimately, the long chain of events led to a faceoff between teammates that not even a Hollywood script could match. In the end, Shohei Ohtani bested Mike Trout.

The Very Best?

Some folks are wondering if Trout’s performance in the WBC affected his status as the best player in baseball and what impact, if any, it has on his legacy. He is certainly a very decorated athlete. A former Rookie of the Year, 10-time MLB All-Star, two-time All-Star Game MVP,  three-time American League MVP, and nine-time winner of the Silver Slugger Award. Make no mistake, this puts him among the elite. But THE best? Definitely not after last night. Trout’s tournament was far from stellar. Slashing .296/.406/.556 with a .962 OPS, he had the second-most strikeouts (12) in the entire competition with one homerun to show for it. When it comes to the big moments, very few I grant you, he doesn’t come up big.

Take his only playoff appearance in 2014 against the Kansas City Royals. Trout went 1-for-12 during that series that saw the Angels swept from the postseason. Last night he went 1-for-5 fanning thrice including a bad one in the fifth chasing a splitter in the dirt.

Conversely, Trea Turner in the WBC hit .391 complemented by a  .440 OBP, 1.043 slugging, and 1.483 OPS. His five homers are the most by a Team USA player in Classic history. He joins David Wright (2013) and Jason Varitek (2006) as the only guys to have hit a grand slam for the Stars and Stripes during the World Baseball Classic. With all due respect to Trout, Trea looked more the part of Captain America than he did. One last nugget for you: Of all the 18 or so active players who have won an MVP, Ohtani, and Trout are the only guys to have never won a playoff game per ESPN Stats & Info.

Final Thoughts

What a journey. The 2023 World Baseball Classic was an excellent tournament from start to finish.  Beginning with the Pool D Opener of Nicaragua versus Puerto Rico to the group finale that witnessed P.R. eliminate the Dominican Republic all through the quarterfinals, semifinals, and the final, there was no shortage of excitement from fans and players alike. The amount of energy seen throughout the competition has been unrivaled as spectators were treated to all kinds of great baseball. Epic comebacks, tremendous victories, historic upsets, and heartbreaking losses. I firmly believe this was the best Classic yet. There was so much drama. So many storylines.

We’ve got Turner’s achievements, Nicaraguan pitcher Duque Hebbert earning himself a contract with the Detroit Tigers after striking out Juan Soto, Rafael Devers, and Julio Rodríguez, Great Britain shocking Colombia for its first-ever win in its WBC debut, Mexico’s historic triumph over the US, the politics of the United States and Cuba facing off in Miami, the list goes on. All of it topped off with an epic Ohtani-Trout battle.

Someone tell me the odds in watching two of the best players in baseball dueling each other in the ninth inning on the final out of a championship game…who are also teammates. What the world witnessed was nothing short of legendary. What we continue to see is nothing short of a special, once-in-a-lifetime experience. We are seeing Shohei Ohtani, a Japanese player, be the face of Major League Baseball. Of the sport internationally. A two-way player not only in the same sentence but being compared to Babe Ruth.

The biggest winner here wasn’t Japan. It was baseball. Without a doubt, the game has benefitted greatly.  Furthermore, it silenced critics and likely spread its appeal even further worldwide.

We were fortunate to have Miami as a venue for much of the WBC. It’s my fervent hope that the city cemented itself for future editions. I can’t wait for 2026! For now, we’ve got the upcoming MLB season to look forward to.

Photo | Cut4

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