Team Japan are your 2023 World Baseball Classic champions! Their bullpen was simply too much for the Team USA hitters, turning in scoreless inning after scoreless inning with each pitcher throwing a nastier splitter than the last. What promised to be a slugfest actually turned into a pitchers’ duel, with the Samurai Japan arms coming out on top, 3-2.
Mike Trout kicked things off with a one-out bloop down the right-field line, putting his head down out of the box to slide into second with a hustle double. However, Cardinals teammates Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado would strand him in scoring position. Just like his teammate, Shohei Ohtani was the first man aboard for Japan drawing a two-out walk, but he too was stranded.
The stingy pitching was a portent of things to follow in the proceeding eight innings. With one out in the second, Trea Turner continued his blistering run in the elimination games by clobbering his fourth home run in the last three contests. The ball left his bat at 107 mph and landed in the left-field stands 406 feet away.
J.T. Realmuto and Tim Anderson followed with a pair of singles as Team USA threatened to hang a crooked number in the frame, but a Mookie Betts fly out ended the frame. In the bottom half, Munetaka Murakami said “hold my beer” and launched a solo blast of his own that made Turner’s shot look like a wall-scraper. He demolished a ball 115 mph that almost seemed to still be rising as it landed in the right-field upper deck to level the score at 1-1.
The prodigious lefty slugger broke NPB single-season home run record for a domestic-born player, launching 56 home runs in 2022 to pass NPB legend and worldwide career home run king Sadaharu Oh. Murakami won the Triple Crown last season, slashing .318/.458/.711 with 56 home runs and 134 RBI, and has expressed interest in being posted to MLB following the 2025 season.
Team USA manager Mark DeRosa continued to fuel skepticism over his selection as skipper, leaving starter Merrill Kelly in as the inning continued to unravel. It was eerily similar to the quarterfinal against Venezuela, when he left Daniel Bard out to dry as the Rockies reliever loaded the bases and walked in a run without recording an out. Kelly loaded the bases by giving up a pair of singles and a walk following the home run, and thankfully DeRosa discovered a bit more urgency this time around, pulling him for Aaron Loup. The Angels’ lefty limited the damage to just one more run on a Lars Nootbaar soft grounder, but Samurai Japan had their first lead, 2-1.
This was always going to be a battle of the bullpens, and by the start of the third inning, both starters had departed. Shosei Togo struck out Trout and Turner with a slate of nasty sliders, sandwiched around a pair of walks issued to Arenado and Kyle Schwarber. Kyle Freeland entered in the third and retired the side on 11 pitches. He wouldn’t be so lucky in the fourth, surrendering a solo shot to Kazuma Okamoto to extend Japan’s lead, 3-1.
The United States lineup was able to create traffic on the bases pretty much all game, but time after time fell short of driving them in. They put a pair on in the fifth via singles from Betts and Arenado and another pair on in the seventh on a Jeff McNeil walk and Betts single, both times to no avail.
It was déjà vu all over again in the bottom of the sixth, with Rays reliever Jason Adam walking the bases loaded with two outs. This time, with relievers only beginning to mill around in the USA bullpen, DeRosa left his pitcher in to get out of his own jam. To his credit that’s exactly what Adam did, inducing a Nootbaar fly ball to leave the bases juiced and escape the inning unscathed.
As if the previous relievers faced weren’t good enough, Team USA found themselves staring down the barrel of Yu Darvish and Ohtani pitching the eighth and ninth innings. However, Schwarber didn’t appear all that daunted and turned in probably the best plate appearance of the whole tournament. He fought off pitch after pitch from Darvish, finally getting a mistake splitter over the heart of the plate on the tenth offering of the AB. He crushed it 110.7 mph, 436 feet into the seats in right to breathe some life back into his team, 3-2.
Ohtani jogged in to close out the game and immediately we realized the opportunity to face his Angels teammate. McNeil threatened to spoil the drama by reaching with a leadoff walk, but a Betts GIDP preserved the scenario. As if written in the stars, this meant we got Ohtani vs. Trout, Team Japan up one with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. In spectacular fashion, the eventual WBC MVP struck Trout out on a devastating slider sweeping out of the zone to secure Japan’s third WBC title, 3-2.
It’s been an incredible ride following this World Baseball Classic, and we here at Pinstripe Alley appreciate you all jumping on the journey together. We hope that you’re as excited as we are for 2026!