The United States and Japan are set to face off in the 2023 World Baseball Classic Final in what may be the most-watched baseball game in history.
USA beat Cuba in the semifinals 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 vs. Japan|
|Where||loanDepot Park, Miami, Florida|
|When||7:00 ET, Tuesday, March 21, 2023|
|How to watch||Fox Sports 1|
|Odds||USA -140; Japan +110|
It was a semifinal 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 semifinal. The Mexicans took a 3-0 lead thanks to Luis Urias home run off Japanese starter Roki Sasaki, who had been throwing at 100 mph 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 he hit the ball, the crowd leapt to its feet to cheer home the winning runs.
Murakami doubled to center field, driving in two runs to win the game and secure Japan's place in the final.
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 the television audience was 60 million, just under half the population of Japan. With the 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 rumors that Yu Darvish would make the start, or even Ohtani himself, but the honor 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 lineup that got him through to the final.
Team USA are searching for successive championships in the World Baseball Classic, something only Japan had 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, but 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 semifinal with, including 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 home runs in back-to-back games, including a grand slam against Venezuela in the quarters and a three-run shot against Cuba in a 14-2 victory in the semis.
Turner set a US record for home runs (4) in a World Baseball Classic tournament.
This could be a high scoring game and for both sides to score seven runs is +700.
This tournament has had it critics, 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.
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