MIAMI, FL — For baseball fans around the world, tonight’s World Baseball Classic final between USA and Japan is exactly what everyone asked for at the start of the tournament. Mike Trout, nicknamed “Captain America” by many, squares off against fellow Angels teammate Shohei Ohtani on Tuesday night, March 21, for what will feel like a one-game World Series in March.
Team USA pummeled Cuba 14-2 in the semi-final round on Sunday night to punch their ticket to the final. Trae Turner’s two home runs in a WBC game made him the only other player from the United States besides Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. to accomplish the feat. Team USA scored runs in each of the first six innings to continuously build their lead, and after a shaky first inning, Adam Wainwright retired the final 12 of 15 batters he faced to push the United States through four innings.
Japan squared off against Mexico on Monday night for their chance at another WBC Championship. Up to this point, Japan bowled over anyone that stood in their way. On Monday, March 20, Mexico jumped out to a 3-0 lead and changed everything. Luis Arias destroyed his first home run of the tournament, a three-run shot, on a 403-foot dinger into left-center. Now, Japan was on its back foot. They had to play catchup and find a way to claim victory.
After Japan tied the game in the 7th with a home run from Masataka Yoshida, Mexico punched right back in the 8th with a go-ahead RBI double from Alex Verdugo. Trailing 5-4 entering the bottom of the 9th, Japan had three outs to retake the lead. Shohei Ohtani led off with a double to get the inning going. The best 2-way player since Babe Ruth showed out in clutch time to set the stage for the comeback.
“It’s been a while since I was playing in a win-or-lose game, a playoff atmosphere game,” Ohtani said. “Obviously, we couldn’t lose, and I wanted to get the guys rallied up in the dugout.”
Yoshida drew a walk in the next at-bat to put runners on first and second. Ukyo Shuto then pinch-ran for Yoshida with no outs as Munetaka Murakami came up to the plate. Murakami sizzled a line drive to the right-center gap to score Ohtani and Shuto. Japan walked off Mexico 6-5 to punch their ticket to the final in dramatic fashion.
Now, on Tuesday night, we get the game that everyone wanted from the beginning. USA versus Japan. Certainly, Japan wanted this game, at least. 60 million people from Japan watched their team take on Korea in Game 1 of the WBC. Team USA reached their second WBC final straight and needs one more win to bring home the championship. Merrill Kelly gets the start tonight for Team USA, and if our sluggers from the states ever needed an excuse to go off, tonight is the night to make history.
The first pitch on Tuesday, March 21, is scheduled for 6 p.m. at LoanDepot Park in Miami.
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