Japan Wins It All - 2023 World Baseball Classic Knockout Round Recap
A couple of days ago, on the 21st of March 2023, the 2023 World Baseball Classic came to an end with Japan crowning themselves the world champions for the third time since the World Baseball Classic began, their other wins in 2006 and 2009. In this article, I will be recapping the quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals.
The first quarterfinal match took place on Wednesday the 15th at the Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Japan, with Australia taking on Cuba. Australia struck first in the top of the 2nd with an RBI single by Rixon Wingrove. In the bottom of the 3rd, Cuba tied it up on an RBI groundout by Luis Robert, Jr. In the bottom of the 5th, Cuba pushed ahead three runs to make it 4-1 on an Alfredo Despaigne SAC fly and a 2 RBI single by Yoeklis Guibert. Australia responded with a pair of runs the next inning with a two-run homer by Wingrove, but ultimately those would be the final runs of the match. Cuba held on to win 4-3 and move on with Miguel Romero notching the win, Raidel Martinez the save, and Josh Guyer the loss.
The next day Italy and Japan squared off at the Tokyo Dome, the final match it hosted of the tournament. Japan would open up the scoring in the bottom of the 3rd inning as Masataka Yoshida hit an RBI groundout to open it up before Kazuma Okamoto blasted a three-run HR to make it 4-0. In the top of the 5th, Italy’s Dominic Fletcher struck for two RBIs on a single, Italy’s first runs of the game. In the bottom half of the inning, Japan effectively slammed the door, plating three runs on a Munetaka Murakami RBI double and an Okamoto two RBI double to make it 7-2. In the bottom of the 7th, Yoshida struck again with a solo homer and Sosuke Genda plated Japan’s final run of the game on an RBI single. In the top of the 8th, Italy would muster its final run of the tournament on a solo HR by Fletcher, making the final score 9-3 and ending their title hopes. Japan’s young phenom Shohei Ohtani picked up the win while Italy’s Joe LaSorsa was assessed the loss.
On the 17th, Puerto Rico and Mexico met at LoanDepot Park in Miami, Florida, the site for the rest of the tournament’s matches, to determine who would move on. Puerto Rico struck fast and hard, tallying four runs in the top of the 1st inning off of an Emmanuel Rivera SAC fly, a Javier Baez two-run homer, and a solo homer by Eddie Rosario on the very next pitch. Unfortunately for Puerto Rico, they would be shut out for the remainder of the game. In the bottom of the 2nd, Isaac Paredes began the climb for Mexico with a solo homer. In the bottom of the 5th, Alex Verdugo made it 4-2 on an RBI single. In the bottom of the 7th, Mexico would take the lead on three runs produced by a Paredes 2 RBI single and an RBI single by Luis Urias to make it 5-4. Mexico withstood numerous opportunities to take the lead by Puerto Rico, ultimately punching their ticket to the semis. JoJo Romero earned the win, Giovanny Gallegos the save, and Alexis Diaz the loss.
The final match of the quarterfinals took place on the 18th, with Venezuela taking on the United States. The US pushed three runs across in the top of the 1st, using RBI singles by Mike Trout, Paul Goldschmidt, and Kyle Tucker to make it 3-0 immediately. Venezuela immediately responded as Luis Arraez smacked a two-run HR in the bottom half of the inning. In the top of the 4th, Mookie Betts hit a SAC fly to make it 4-2 and a Tucker solo homer in the top of the 5th made it 5-2 in favor of the US. In the bottom of the 5th, Venezuela struck for four runs off of a wild pitch, an Arraez RBI fielders choice, an RBI double off of the bat of Salvador Perez, and a SAC fly by Ronald Acuna, Jr. to take a 6-5 lead. In the bottom of the 7th, Arraez belted another home run to make it 7-5. Unfortunately for Venezuela, in the top of the 8th inning, the US took advantage of a bases-loaded situation as Trea Turner belted a grand slam to take a 9-7 lead and ultimately, the win. Jose Quijada was assessed the loss for surrendering the game-losing grand slam while David Bednar earned the win and Ryan Pressly the save.
The first match of the semifinals pitted Cuba against the United States on the 19th. What was on paper a relatively even match turned into a rout quickly. Cuba squandered a massive opportunity in the top of the 1st with bases loaded as they could only muster a single run on a walk by Alfredo Despaigne. In the bottom of the inning, the US immediately responded with a two-run HR by Paul Goldschmidt. Trea Turner hit a solo homer in the 2nd. Pete Alonso got an RBI single and Tim Anderson hit a SAC fly in the 3rd. Nolan Arenado hit an RBI triple and scored on a wild pitch in the 4th to make it 7-1 quickly. In the top of the 5th, Cuba would score their second and final run an RBI single by Andy Ibanez. From there the US would continue to lay it on. Goldschmidt got a 2 RBI single in the bottom of the 5th. Turner hit a three-run homer and Mike Trout picked up an RBI double in the 6th. In the 8th, Cedric Mullens pushed the 14th and final run of the game for the US across on a solo HR. In the end, it was a 14-2 blowout win for the US, with Adam Wainwright earning the win and Roenis Elias the loss.
The second and final match of the semifinals took place on Monday the 20th between Mexico and heavily favored Japan. The match started as a pitching duel, with neither side scoring through three innings. In the top of the 4th, Mexico put themselves on the board first with a three-run homer by Luis Urias. Japan would finally respond in the bottom of the 7th, as Masataka Yoshida hit a three-run bomb of his own to tie the game. In the very next inning, Mexico pushed two runs across on an RBI double from Alex Verdugo and an RBI single by Isaac Paredes. In the next half inning, Japan would push a run across on a SAC fly by Hotaka Yamakawa. Mexico couldn’t score any insurance runs in the top of the 9th and the bottom of the inning unraveled swiftly. A leadoff double by Shohei Ohtani and a walk afterward by Yoshida, who was replaced by the speedy runner Ukyo Shuto put two on with nobody out. Munetaka Murakami would end the game with a walk-off 2 RBI double, putting Japan on top 6-5 and on their way to the championship match against the US. Taisei Ota earned the win and Giovanny Gallegos the loss.
The championship match took place on the 21st, with Japan taking on the hosting US, with the US ironically the road team due to seeding. What took place has quickly become regarded as a classic WBC game, much like the Mexico-Japan match. The US opened the scoring in the top of the 2nd with a solo homer by Trea Turner. Japan responded in the bottom of the inning with two runs of their own, one on a Munetaka Murakami solo HR and an RBI groundout by Lars Nootbar. Japan would score their final run in the bottom of the 4th when Kazuma Okamoto notched a solo homer of his own. Japan would stifle the US until the top of the 8th when Kyle Schwarber hit a solo HR to make it 3-2. In the top of the 9th, Japan put Shohei Ohtani on the mound and the match would end with him striking out LA Angels teammate Mike Trout to end the tournament and crown Japan as world champions for the third time. Shota Imanaga earned the win while Ohtani got the save with Merrill Kelly picking up the loss.
With the 2023 World Baseball Classic wrapped up, it was awards time. The US finished as runners-up while Mexico earned bronze and Cuba fourth place. The all-tournament team consisted of: Salvador Perez (catcher, Venezuela), Yu Chang (1st baseman, Taiwan), Javier Baez (2nd baseman, Puerto Rico), Yoan Moncada (3rd baseman, Cuba), Trea Turner (shortstop, United States), Randy Arozarena (outfielder, Mexico), Mike Trout (outfielder, United States), Masataka Yoshida (outfielder, Japan), Shohei Ohtani (designated hitter and pitcher, Japan), Miguel Romero (pitcher, Cuba), and Patrick Sandoval (pitcher, Mexico). Shohei Ohtani also earned tournament MVP honors, another major honor for a growing legend.
Now that the tournament is over, we can begin to look ahead to the 2026 World Baseball Classic, with most of the information regarding it yet to be announced. 2025 will likely be when qualifiers will occur, but in the meantime, MLB play is almost upon us, and other leagues will begin as well. In the end, long-lasting memories were made and I can’t wait until the next WBC.