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2023 World Baseball Classic Day 10: Ohtani, Okamoto send Japan to the semis

The two-time champs booked their ticket to Miami with a comprehensive win over Italy.

World Baseball Classic Quarterfinals: Italy v Japan Photo by Gene Wang/Getty Images

The knockout stages are now in full swing at the World Baseball Classic. The morning after the United States and Puerto Rico punched their tickets to the quarterfinals, Japan and Italy brought us the tournament’s second win-or-go-home matchup with a spot in the semis on the line. We’re bringing this recap early since it was the only game scheduled for March 16th and it wrapped up in the morning Eastern Time.

With two WBC titles in tow, not to mention a flat-out stacked roster, replete with star hitters and ace pitchers (and the one man who is both), Japan entered the game as clear favorites. They played up to their billing, comfortably dispatching the Mike Piazza-led Italian squad to clinch Japan’s fifth-consecutive trip to the WBC semifinals.

Quarterfinal 2: Japan (5-0) 9, Italy (2-3) 3

Italy faced a tall task from the outset, what with Japan getting to send Shohei Ohtani to the mound for the start. Ohtani looked in midseason form, breezing through the early innings against an overmatched Italian lineup. The right-handed world-beater struck out five and allowed three baserunners over his first four (shutout) innings. Ohtani also tossed in his hardest-ever recorded pitch for good measure, pumping in 102-mph heat to fan Royals first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino:

While Ohtani was cruising, the Japanese lineup continued their habit of posting crooked numbers. Red Sox free agent signing Matasaka Yoshida opened the scoring with an RBI groundout in the third, and Kazuma Okamoto quickly gave Japan breathing room with a three-run bomb two batters later:

The Tokyo Dome was rocking by that point, and it wouldn’t have been surprising if Italy went quietly into that good night from there. To their credit, Italy did punch back against Ohtani in the fifth, cutting the deficit to 4-2 thanks to Dominic Fletcher’s two-run single, chasing Ohtani in the process.

But Japan’s lineup was too much for Italy’s assortment of journeymen pitchers. 23-year-old superstar Munetaka Murakami, who set the NPB record for dingers laste year with 56, doubled home a run in the bottom of the fifth to get Japan rolling again, and Okamoto doubled home two more to bring his RBI total for the day to five. Okamoto isn’t a household name in the States, but he’s a stud in Japan, having hit 30-plus homers and managed at least an .800 OPS in each of his last five NPB seasons. Good on him for seizing his chance to break out on the international stage.

Fletcher chipped in a solo homer off Yu Darvish in the eighth to give himself a nice little three-RBI day, but it was too little too late. Japan closed things out at home for a 9-3 win and the right to face the winner of Quarterfinal 4, which will be staged between Puerto Rico and Mexico on Friday night.

Next at the WBC:

Puerto Rico vs. Mexico
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET on Friday, 3/17
Location: loanDepot Park, Miami