It was everything you dream of as a young child playing baseball in the backyard.
3-2 count. Two outs. Ninth inning.
And a world championship on the line.
That was what we saw in the ninth inning of the championship game of the World Baseball Classic on Tuesday night. Japan, with a 3-2 lead in the championship game, turned to baseball’s unicorn, Shohei Ohtani, to close out the win.
After leadoff hitter Jeff McNeil worked a walk, daring to lay off a 3-2 fastball just below the strike zone, Ohtani induced a ground ball from leadoff hitter Mookie Betts to erase the walk, and push Japan one out away from a championship.
Standing in Ohtani and Japan’s way?
Ohtani’s teammate in MLB, Mike Trout. One of the game’s best hitters.
Ohtani started Trout with a slider, the pitch he seemed to have the most command of during the inning. But the first pitch slider was low, giving Trout the 1-0 advantage.
That’s when Ohtani turned to his fastball.
He put a 100-mph fastball right down the heart of the plate, and Trout gave it everything he had with his swing. But the ball settled in the mitt of catcher Yuhei Nakamura, evening the count at 1-1.
Trout gave a nod to his teammate before settling in for the next pitch.
This was another fastball from Ohtani that missed outside. Advantage Trout again, at 2-1.
On the next pitch, Ohtani again dialed up the fastball. Another 100-mph heater right down the plate.
Another swing-and-a-miss. Another nod from Trout to his teammate.
With the count now 2-2, what would Ohtani do? Would he go back to the fastball, or try and sneak another slider by his teammate?
Ohtani wanted to punch him out with the heater, and put everything he had into the next fastball. It hit 102 on the radar gun, but bounced low and outside.
3-2. Two outs. Ninth inning. A championship on the line.
And then? The nastiest slider you might ever see:
For good measure, here is the call from Japanese TV:
To put Ohtani’s WBC run, and his status as the game’s true unicorn, in perspective, consider these numbers:
Shohei Othani in the World Baseball Classic hit .435/.606/.739 with 4 doubles & a home run. And he had a 1.86 ERA with 11 strikeouts in 9⅔ innings.
— Eric Stephen (@ericstephen) March 22, 2023
But let’s return to the ending.
The at-bat, and the battle between MLB teammates, delivered the kind of moment WBC organizers were dreaming of, capping off a tremendous tournament. Since its launch in 2006, the WBC has not been without criticism. Whether the timing of the event — and the injuries that we have seen in this year’s installment — as well as the need for the event itself, the WBC has seen its share of critics.
But on Tuesday night, the WBC delivered everything its organizers and proponents imagined. Two of the game’s best players, staring each other down, in the ninth inning with everything on the line.
The kind of moment you dream of as a child, now on a global stage.