The World Baseball Classic has a final that most pundits predicted and is expected to be the most watched game in baseball history as United States plays Japan in the WBC Final of 2023.
USA beat Cuba in the semi-finals on Monday to continue their quest to win back-to-back WBC titles, while Japan beat Mexico in an epic semi-final on Tuesday and try to win the WBC for the third time.
|What||United States v Japan|
|Where||LoanDepot Park, Miami, Florida|
|When||23:00, Tuesday 21st March, 2023|
|How to watch||BT Sport 1|
|Odds||USA 10/13; Japan 1/1|
It was a semi-final that had everyone on their feet, a back and forth duel between two aggressive sides that delighted the 35,933 crowd inside LoanDepot Park in Miami and the millions watching on television.
Japan had to battle hard to win the game against a determined Mexico side in their first semi-final. The Mexicans took a 3-0 lead thanks to Luis Urias home run off Japanese starter Roki Sasaki, who had been throwing at 100mph plus.
Masataka Yoshida responded in the seventh to level the game off JoJo Romero to eventually take the lead 5-4 before Japan, with runners on first and second, saw Munetaka Murakami at the plate, he had been 0-4 during the game, but as soon as hit the ball the crowd leapt to their feet, those were the winning runs.
Speaking to Fox Sports, Shohei Ohtani said: “Obviously, it’s a big accomplishment to get to the championship series, but there’s a huge difference between getting first and second. I’m going to do all I can to get first place.
“It’s been a while since I was playing in a win or lose game, a playoff atmosphere game. Obviously, we couldn’t lose and I wanted to get the guys rallied up in the dugout.”
There is a conservative estimate that for Japan’s second pool game against South Korea, that the television audience was 60 million, that is just under half the population of Japan. With United States in the final, the TV audience figures could be off the scale.
On the mound for Japan will be Shota Imanaga. There were rumours that Yu Darvish would make the start, or even Ohtani himself, but the honour goes to Imanaga. The lefty has appeared in two games in relief so far in the tournament and has a 2.25 ERA with five strikeouts.
It’s expected that Japan team manager Hideki Kuriyama will keep with the same line-up that got him through to the final.
Team USA are searching for successive championships in the World Baseball Classic, something only Japan have done previously (2006, 2009).
Speaking to MLB.com, outfielder Kyle Schwarber said: “You obviously come for the experience and you come to play with this team. But you don’t come here just for that, you come to win.”
USA haven’t officially named their starter, team manager Mark DeRosa hinted it could be Merrill Kelly’s turn. They may go with the same order that they defeated Cuba in the semi-final with. Pete Alonso as designated hitter with Mookie Betts leading off. Amazingly, Trea Turner batting ninth shows how much depth that USA has in their line-up.
Turner has hit back-to-back home runs including a grand slam against Venezuela in the quarter-finals and a three-run shot against Cuba in a 14-2 victory in the final four.
Turner set a US record for home runs in a World Baseball Classic tournament (four) and speaking to ESPN after the game dampened down spirits at the victory, Turner said: “I don’t do a lot of emotion.
"Just because you hit a homer one at-bat doesn’t mean you are going to do anything the next time. So, compartmentalise, and when the day’s over, you kind of take a step back, see what happened and then move on from there.”
This could be a high scoring game and for both sides to score seven runs is 7/1.
USA, with their stacked roster have been waiting for this moment to try and send to everyone that they mean business in the best baseball tournament in the World.
This tournament has had it critics and rightly so about it’s scheduling, but the players have put on a show, and everyone will be hoping for a final worthy of the anticipation at the start of the tournament.