After a showdown between two baseball superpowers, Japan emerged victorious over the USA to win their third World Baseball Classic Title.
Japan defeated the United States 3-2 on Tuesday to win the World Baseball Classic for a record third time.
Home runs from Munetaka Murakami and Kazuma Okamoto helped put Japan ahead before superstar Shohei Ohtani closed out the win from the mound in the ninth inning.
It is Japan’s third victory in the baseball showpiece following wins in 2006 and 2009.
The star-studded United States, defending champions after winning the last edition of the tournament in 2017, were left ruing their inability to get on top of Japan’s pitchers at Miami’s LoanDepot Park.
Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Trea Turner blasted the host nation into a 1-0 lead in the top of the second inning with a solo shot to left field.
But Japan hit back immediately with Murakami — the hero of Japan’s walk-off win over Mexico in Monday’s semi-final — launching a home run to right-center field in the bottom of the second off US starter Merrill Kelly.
Kelly’s problems were only just beginning, with the Arizona right-hander giving up singles to Okamoto and before walking Yuhei Nakamura to load the bases.
That prompted US skipper Mark DeRosa to pull Kelly off the mound, with Aaron Loup brought in to get out of the jam.
Loup managed to emerge from the situation relatively unscathed, with Japan picking up just one more run for a 2-1 lead after Lars Nootbaar grounded out to score Okamoto.
Japan extended their lead in the bottom of the fourth when Okamoto crushed a fly ball to left field off US reliever Kyle Freeland to make it 3-1.
The Americans threatened to haul themselves back into contention in the fifth but left Mookie Betts and Nolan Arenado stranded on base.
It was a similar story in the top of the seventh when Jeff McNeil took a leadoff walk before Betts singled to leave US runners on first and second with no outs.
Once again though the US was unable to cash in, with Mike Trout lining out to right fielder Kensuke Kondoh before a double-play ended the inning.
Japan manager Hideki Kuriyama turned to Yu Darvish to lock it down in the eighth.
But after getting rid of Arenado the San Diego Padres pitcher was jolted by a monster home run from Kyle Schwarber, who launched a fly ball into the upper tiers to make it a one-run game.
Devin Williams went scoreless through the eighth inning, setting up a dream final inning with Ohtani pitching to close out the game.
The Los Angeles Angels two-way started nervously by walking McNeil but Betts grounded into a double play to leave Japan just one out from victory.
That left Ohtani needing to dispose of Angels teammate Mike Trout to clinch victory, and the US captain struck out swinging to end the game, with Japan as the 2023 World Baseball Classic Champions.
Banner image from Cut4 on Twitter.