Ohtani fans Trout, Japan tops U.S., 3-2, for WBC championship

Rhona Wise-USA TODAY Sports
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MIAMI – Shohei Ohtani emerged from the bullpen and fanned Los Angeles Angels teammate Mike Trout for the final out in a matchup the whole baseball world wanted to see, leading Japan over the defending champion United States 3-2 for its first World Baseball Classic title since 2009.

Ohtani, the two-way star who has captivated fans across two continents, was voted MVP of the WBC and clutched the award against his chest.

Ohtani beat out an infield single in the seventh inning as a designated hitter before walking down the left-field line to Japan’s bullpen to warm up for his third mound appearance of the tournament.

Flashing his 100 mph heat, Ohtani walked big league batting champion Jeff McNeil to begin the ninth before getting Mookie Betts to ground into a double play.

Trout, the U.S. captain and a three-time MVP, then ended the game by striking out on a full-count breaking ball. Ohtani’s only other save was in a Japan postseason playoff game in 2016.

Ohtani batted .435 with one homer, four doubles, eight RBIs and 10 walks as Japan joined the Dominican Republic in 2013 to become the only unbeaten champions of baseball’s premier national team tournament. Ohtani, the 2021 AL MVP was 2-0 with a save and a 1.86 ERA on the mound, striking out 11 in 9 2/3 innings.

Japan went 7-0 and outscored opponents 56-18, reaching the final for the first time since winning the first two WBCs in 2006 and 2009. No other nation has won the title more than once.

Munetaka Murakami and Kazuma Okamoto homered as Japan built a 3-2 lead.

Trea Turner put the U.S. ahead in the second with his record-tying fifth home run of the tournament and Kyle Schwarber pulled the Americans within a run when he went deep in the eighth off Yu Darvish.

It was the second straight major title for the Japanese, who beat the U.S. 2-0 in Yokohama for the 2021 Olympic gold medal. Japan used top players in that tournament while the U.S. sent released major leaguers and top prospects.

Turner put the U.S. ahead in the second inning with a drive to left against Shota Imanaga (1-0), tying South Korea’s Seung Yuop Lee in 2006 for the most in a WBC. That lit up a sellout crowd of 36,098 – fans were given wristbands with colored lights that flickered.

Murakami, at 23 already a two-time Central League MVP, tied the score on the first pitch of the bottom half when Merrill Kelly (0-1) elevated a fastball. Murakami drove it at 115.1 mph into the right-field upper deck, 432 feet away.

Murakami’s game-ending double lifted Japan over Mexico 6-5 in Monday night’s semifinal and his third-inning homer off Nick Martinez put Japan ahead in the 2021 gold medal game.

Japan loaded the bases in the second on singles by Okamoto and Sosuke Genda, and a walk to Yuhei Nakamura. Lars Nootbaar, the first non-Japanese-born player to appear for the Samurai Warriors, followed with a run-scoring groundout off Aaron Loup for a 2-1 lead.

Okamoto boosted the lead in the fourth when he sent a flat slider from Kyle Freeland over the wall in left-center.

Japan was outhit 9-5 as Imanaga combined with six relievers to hold the U.S. to 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position. The 29-year-old left-hander and Shosei Togo pitched two innings each, Hiroto Takahashi, Hiromi Itoh and Taisei Ota got three outs each, with Ota escaping two-on, no-outs trouble by retiring Trout on a flyout and getting Paul Goldschmidt to ground into a double play.

Trout and Ohtani hugged behind the batting cage during pregame workouts, then held their nation’s flag while leading their teams toward home plate in single file during the introductions, Trout down the right-field line and Ohtani in left.

Several thousand fans had arrived hours early to watch Ohtani take batting practice and applauded when he hit a drive off the video board above the second deck in center.

Trout hit .296 in the tournament with one homer, seven RBIs and 12 strikeouts.

MONEY MATTERS

Japan gets $3 million in prize money and the U.S. $1.7 million. Half of each goes to players, the other half to the national baseball federaton.

UP NEXT

MLB openers are March 30, the same day the season starts in Japan.

Yankees score runs in final three innings for 4-1 victory over Dodgers

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
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LOS ANGELES – Despite battling injuries all season, the New York Yankees are still managing to pick up victories.

With AL MVP Aaron Judge sidelined after injuring his foot on Saturday, the Yankees got strong pitching and were able to use a little bit of small ball to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-1 Sunday and take two of three games in the weekend series.

“Just a really good all-around effort. A lot of winning things were happening in that game,” manager Aaron Boone said.

New York plated runs in the seventh and eighth innings on soft-contract grounders before Anthony Volpe provided some insurance with a two-run homer in the ninth.

J.D. Martinez homered for the Dodgers, who dropped the final two games in the series.

Clay Holmes (4-2) pitched one inning to pick up the win, and Wandy Peralta got the last four outs for his fourth save.

It was a pitchers’ duel for six innings between the Yankees’ Domingo Germán and Dodgers’ Bobby Miller. The right-handers matched zeroes as the teams combined for only four hits in the first six innings.

Dodgers’ rookie Miller allowed only one hit in his six innings, becoming the first Dodgers’ pitcher since at least 1901 to allow one hit or fewer within his first three big league starts. The 24-year old right-hander struck out seven and walked two in his third start.

Germán went 6 2/3 innings and allowed one run and four hits, including Martinez’s solo shot to tie it at 1-all in the seventh. The right-hander has limited opponents to one run or fewer in four of his last six starts.

Jake Bauers – who was playing right field in place of Judge – scored the game’s first run in the seventh on Kyle Higashioka‘s broken-bat grounder to short.

Bauers got aboard with a base hit then advanced to third when Brusdar Graterol threw the ball away on Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s bunt.

After Martinez’s homer, the Yankees retook the lead in the eighth against Evan Phillips (1-1). Oswaldo Cabrera drove in Anthony Rizzo with the go-ahead run with a slow roller that second baseman Miguel Vargas could only throw to first.

“It not being hit well helps when the fielders have to move a little. That’s what you’re selling out for. Good job by the base runners there,” Boone said.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said both balls could not have been placed any better by the Yankees’ batters.

“I don’t think they had a chance on both balls. The base runners had such a good jump. They were jam shots,” Roberts said. “There were a lot of things we did as far as giving away a couple bases on the defensive side.”

Volpe had two hits after being mired in a 3-for-38 slump his last 11 games. He extended the lead by driving Caleb Ferguson’s fastball over the wall in left-center in the ninth. It was Volpe’s ninth homer, which is second among AL rookies.

“We’ve got a lot of confidence,” said Volpe after the Yankees took four of six on the road trip.

BOMBS AWAY

Martinez evened it in the bottom of the inning with a solo shot to left-center. It was his 10th homer in the last 21 games.

Martinez has 20 homers against the Yankees, his third-most against any club. He has 35 against Baltimore and 23 vs. Cleveland. He is four homers away from 300 for his career.

MILLER TIME

Miller – the 29th overall pick in the 2020 amateur draft – looked like he might have a short outing after throwing 27 pitches in the first inning. He struck out three but also walked two.

Miller retired seven straight between the third and fifth innings before Volpe lined a base hit to center field with two out in the fifth.

“It felt really good. Been working on my slider a lot lately.,” said Miller, who threw 86 pitches, including 39 sliders. “They know I have a good fastball so I have to have my other pitches working as well.”

TRAINER’S ROOM

Yankees: LHP Nestor Cortes is expected to be placed on the injured list Monday or Tuesday due to a shoulder issue. Manager Aaron Boone said Cortes has been slower to recover between starts and is likely to miss one or two starts. … LHP Carlos Rendon (left forearm strain) will face hitters on Wednesday.

Dodgers: OF Trayce Thompson was placed on the injured list with a left oblique strain. OF Johnny Deluca was recalled from Triple-A Oklahoma City.

UP NEXT

Yankees: Return home for six games starting Tuesday against the Chicago White Sox. RHP Clarke Schmidt (2-5, 5.01 ERA) has gone at least five innings in six of his last eight starts.

Dodgers: Hit the road starting Tuesday against Cincinnati. RHP Tony Gonsolin (3-1, 1.77 ERA) has gone 3-0 in his last four starts.