Japan holds off USA to win third WBC championship

Japan defeated Team USA 3-2 on Tuesday night to win the 2023 World Baseball Classic. Japan, who went undefeated throughout the tournament, has now won three WBC tournaments: 2006, 2009, and 2023. They remain the only nation to win multiple tournaments, though Team USA would have joined them with a victory.

The Americans pulled out to an early lead, as Phillies shortstop Trea Turner launched a solo home run in the second to put them up 1-0. Turner's home run happened to make some history on both, country and tournament-wide levels. 

Team USA's lead didn't stand for long. Japan third baseman Munetaka Murakami, who homered 56 times last season and who drove in the game-winning run against Mexico on Monday, hit his own solo home run in the third inning to even the score. 

Japan would later take a 2-1 lead on a Lars Nootbaar fielder's choice. They would extend it to 3-1 on another home run, this one by first baseman Kazuma Okamoto.

To close out the game, Japan's manager, Hideki Kuriyama, turned to two Major League Baseball aces. Padres right-hander Yu Darvish was first up, checking in for the eighth. He experienced some turbulence, surrendering a long home run to Phillies outfielder Kyle Schwarber, reducing Japan's lead to 3-2. Darvish also gave up a hit to Turner, but he worked around it.

Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani, whose availability had been uncertain dating back to last week, took the reins for the ninth. He closed out the victory and ensured Japan's championship. He worked around a leadoff walk to Jeff McNeil, coercing a double-play ball from Mookie Betts to set up the matchup everyone wanted to see: against Angels teammate Mike Trout, in a battle of arguably the two best players in the world.

Ohtani and Trout worked to a full count, fittingly, with Ohtani securing a pair of swing and misses on 100 mph fastballs. Ohtani then struck out Trout with a slider away, securing the end of the game and the tournament. 

Here are five other things to know about Japan's latest WBC championship. 

1. Japan's other pitchers hold strong

Most of the attention will be on Ohtani and Darvish, or Murakami and Okamoto's home runs, but Japan can credit its win in large part to an overall strong effort from their pitching staff. Lefty Shota Imanaga began the contest, holding the Americans to one run on four hits over two innings. He was subsequently relieved by a concert of NPB arms: Shosei Togo, Hiroto Takahashi, Hiromi Itoh, and Taisei Ota. Those four combined to throw five innings, surrendering three hits and three walks, and striking out five batters.

2. Japan completes dominant run

Japan went 7-0 in the WBC, running the table in both pool and single-elimination play. They didn't just beat their opponents; they overmatched them. Japan outscored their foes by a combined 56-18 margin -- that is, for those without a calculator, an average of five-plus runs per contest. What's more is that Japan scored at least six runs in all but one of its games. Fittingly, the exception was Tuesday, when they plated only three runs.

3. Team USA falters with men on

The Americans didn't want for opportunities to match or overtake Japan. On the night, they went 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position. That resulted in nine total runners left on base. Several of the Americans' best bats -- Nolan Arenado, Turner, Schwarber, and Mookie Betts -- stranded runners on base with two outs. Had one or two of them converted, the game would've had a different outcome. Alas, that wasn't meant to be the case. 

4. Turner makes history

We mentioned in the introduction that Turner's home run, his fifth of the tournament, had historical significance. For starters, he established a new record for the most career home runs hit by an American batter in WBC history. He also tied the overall most home runs in a single tournament. That distinction had previously belonged to Korea's Seung-Yuop Lee, who had homered five times as part of the 2006 event. Adrián Beltré (Dominican Republic, 2006) and Wladimir Balentien (Netherlands, 2017) ranked third and fourth with four home runs apiece during those respective tournaments.

5. Next WBC coming in 2026

Prior to the game, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred confirmed that the next edition of the WBC will take place in 2026. The tournament tends to have a cadence of every four years, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced a seven-year gap. The decision to host another WBC in 2026 likely stems from it marking 20 years since the first tournament. You can find out which 16 countries have already qualified for entry by clicking here. Oh and by the way, Angels outfielder Mike Trout has already agreed to partake.

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