Japan secured a spot in the World Baseball Classic final after Shohei Ohtani sparked a ninth-inning rally with a leadoff double. Munetaka Murakami hit a walk-off, two-run double to lift Japan over Mexico 6-5, with Ohtani’s clutch hit being a turning point in the game. Dozens of MLB club officials were in attendance, scouting Rōki Sasaki, the 21-year-old right-hander who struck out three in four innings in his first appearance on a global stage. Sasaki’s entry into the majors is all-but-certain, with many comparing him to Ohtani. Luis Urías hit a three-run homer to left-center field in the fourth, but Japan fought back, pulling within a run on Hotaka Yamakawa’s sacrifice fly. Japan had 10 hits, including Masataka Yoshida’s home run off JoJo Romero’s 2-2 changeup that sailed just inside the right field foul line. The World Baseball Classic final will be held at loanDepot Park in Miami, with Japan’s offensive power set to take on the defending champions, the United States.
Japan edged Mexico 6-5 in a thrilling encounter at the World Baseball Classic to advance to the final. Shohei Ohtani was the star of the show, hitting a crucial leadoff double in the ninth inning that sparked a late rally. Munetaka Murakami then delivered a walk-off, two-run double to secure Japan’s place in the final. Japan, two-time champions of the tournament, will face defending champions the United States in the final. After the game, Team Japan celebrated their victory while Mexico’s players exited the field with their heads bowed.
Ohtani’s double in the ninth inning off losing pitcher Giovanny Gallegos was his fourth of the tournament. The Los Angeles Angels star is batting .450 with nine hits, nine runs, and eight RBIs. Masataka Yoshida hit a tying, three-run homer off reliever JoJo Romero to score Ohtani in the seventh inning.
Left fielder Randy Arozarena was the standout player for Mexico, making a leaping catch in the fifth inning to preserve a 3-0 lead, then doubling and scoring in the eighth to make it 4-3. However, it wasn’t enough to stop Japan’s late comeback.
The game began as a pitching duel between Rōki Sasaki and Patrick Sandoval, but Japan’s offensive power proved too much for Mexico’s relievers. Shota Imanaga will start for Japan in the final, with Merrill Kelly expected to start for Team USA.
With a crowd of 35,933 chanting “¡Si Se Puede!” throughout the night, emotions were running high, and Ohtani’s celebration after his crucial hit showed just how much the game meant to him and his team.
“These games are really critical and the foundation of baseball,” said Japan manager Hideki Kuriyama through an interpreter. With their impressive performance against Mexico, Japan will be confident of adding another title to their collection.
Rōki Sasaki, the 21-year-old right-hander from Japan’s Chiba Lotte Marines, impressed in his first appearance on a global stage, striking out three in four innings. The game was heavily scouted by dozens of MLB club officials, with many already comparing him to his Samurai Japan teammate, Shohei Ohtani.
Sasaki threw 64 pitches, and 26 of them exceeded 100 mph. However, in the fourth inning, Luis Urías hit a three-run homer off Sasaki’s 90.8 mph cutter to give Mexico the lead. Sandoval replaced Sasaki in the fifth inning, striking out six and allowing only four hits in four scoreless innings before being replaced by José Urquidy.
Japan had 10 hits, including Masataka Yoshida’s home run off JoJo Romero’s 2-2 changeup that sailed just inside the right field foul line. Yoshida, who is set to start his first season in the major leagues with the Boston Red Sox, was named the team’s cleanup hitter by manager Alex Cora.
Despite Mexico taking a two-run lead in the eighth inning, Japan fought back, with Hotaka Yamakawa’s sacrifice fly pulling them within a run of Mexico. Japan couldn’t manage another run, and the game finished 4-3 to Mexico.
Shohei Ohtani, who is playing for Japan in the tournament, hit a home run in batting practice so hard that it sailed above the second deck at loanDepot park and bounced off the video board, drawing in hundreds of young fans.
The World Baseball Classic final will be held at loanDepot Park in Miami, with Japan’s offensive power set to take on the defending champions, the United States.
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