I am once again wondering whether anyone who says the WBC is some meaningless exhibition watched even a moment of the tournament. Last night’s semifinal was as riveting a baseball game as you will ever seen, a dynamic back-and-forth affair that saw Munetaka Murakami finally struck the decisive blow, a walk-off, two-run double to punch Japan’s ticket to the finals, tonight against the United States.
Semifinal #2: Japan (5-0) vs. Mexico (4-1)
Rōki Sasaki threw one bad pitch.
The 21 year old phenom struck out two of the first three batters he faced, threw two dozen fastballs over 100 miles per hour, and made Mexico look pretty silly through the first 3.2 innings of action on Monday night. His command began to slip in the fourth, but both singles he allowed were on pitches Rowdy Tellez and Isaac Paredes were super late on. Nevertheless, Luis Urías came to the plate with two on, and two out in the fourth inning:
Japan had undergone something of an odyssey to get to Miami, flying for 15 hours from Tokyo after their quarterfinal win over Italy. Samurai was undefeated, averaging nine runs a game to this point in the tournament, and Patrick Sandoval and his very tight pants said “lol bet”.
The Angels starter, throwing about 10 mph slower than his Japanese counterpart, was every bit as impressive. His 66 pitches got him through 4.1 innings without allowing a run, striking out six against just a single walk, and he left with his team up by a crooked number. Pitching in this tournament is fraught with danger, but you can’t ask for anything more than what Sandoval did last night.
When Sandoval wasn’t completely on his game, his defense behind him shined:
Randy Arozarena has been one of the standouts of the entire tournament, putting up highlights on both sides of the ball. He added one more offensive flashpoint later, but the catch to rob Kazuma Okamoto is one of the biggest plays of the whole WBC.
Japan was held off the scoreboard until the seventh, where Kensuke Kondoh and Shohei Ohtani both reached in the beginnings of a two-out rally. Cue Yoshida:
Again, any person who would call the WBC meaningless...look at Yoshida and Japan spill onto the field. This is a fantastic exhibition of baseball, and we should be doing it more often, not less.
The action didn’t stop there, with Mexico coming right back in the top of the seventh. Doubles in stereo from Arozarena and, unfortunately, Alex Verdugo put the red, white and green up one. Atsuki Yuasa came in and got things down to two out, before Paredes bounced one through the left side, and it was 5-3.
We looked like we might have drama in the eighth, with Japan plating a run with a sacrifice fly, moving the score to 5-4 with two out, and two-hole hitter Kondoh at the plate. Ohtani was on deck, with Lars Nootbaar on base. Your job in that situation, even with two out, is to find a way on, let your best hitter get a hack. Kondoh watched strike three at the thigh, leaving Ohtani standing in the on deck circle.
Speaking of one job to do, Taisei Ota came in to the ninth needing desperately to keep the deficit at one. A flyout and popout were promising starts, before Alek Thomas’ hit by pitch ratcheted up the tension. Austin Barnes struck out, we went to the bottom of the ninth, and Ohtani doubled into the gap to lead us off.
Yoshida, the architect of earlier heroics, walked, handing the stage to Murakami:
Yu Darvish Shoto Imanaga will get the ball to face Merrill Kelly and Team USA, as the two best teams on the planet rightfully meet in the finals. We’ll have a full game thread and day-of recap later on, but for now, the viewing info is below.
Today at the WBC:
Japan vs. USA
Time: 7:00 pm EST
Venue: loanDepot Park, Miami, Florida, USA