Japan tore through the World Baseball Classic, not losing a game during the two-week tournament and beating the U.S. 3-2 in the final on March 21. The penultimate game was a dream matchup played by dream teams led by two of the greatest players that baseball has ever seen, Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout. Ohtani, the two-way phenom of slugger and starting pitcher, filled the designated hitter role all game before closing out the nail-biter in the ninth inning that included striking out his Angel teammate Trout in six pitches to end the game.
The sporting drama worked on so many levels, pitting country against country, team against team, teammate against teammate in a game and tournament that had the electrifying atmosphere of a World Series, World Cup and the Olympics all rolled into one. The crowds in Japan, Phoenix and Miami responded to the play on the field by living and dying with each pitch, even in the earlier rounds.
Many players competing were still trying to prepare for the 162-game MLB season that starts March 30. Still, it became clear as the tournament progressed that coaches and managers had to save their players from themselves, wanting to sacrifice the meticulous planning to pitch longer and harder and make plays in the field that risked injury to win (Ohtani legged out a grounder to short that likely made Angels staff shudder. His pitches closing the series were high-90s to 100 mph).
Japan has now won the tournament three times, dethroning the U.S., who won it last time in 2017. But there were other great storylines, with Mexico making it to the semi-finals after beating the U.S. in bracket play and Puerto Rico before finally falling to Japan. Even Great Britain won a game, giving hope to baseball fans at home for more games to come.
While MLB is often dominated by powerhouses like the U.S., Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Cuba, the WBC classic showed that great baseball players come from everywhere these days. It may be America’s pastime, but the WBC proves that baseball reaches all parts of the globe.