The World Baseball Classic will conclude Tuesday exactly the way it should, with SamuraI Japan facing Team USA for the championship.
Japan ensured that scenario Monday night with a pulsating 6-5 come-from-behind takedown of Mexico in the second semifinal. The United States. eliminated Cuba 14-2 Sunday night to reach the title game.
World Baseball Classic: Japan 6, Mexico 5
To get there, Japan had to fight off one of the gamest losing efforts the WBC has seen. Mexico grabbed a 3-0 lead, lost it, and rebuilt a 5-3 lead, only to see the relentless Japan offense produce the tying and go-ahead runs against ace Mexican closer Giovanny Gallegos in the bottom of the ninth.
In fact, Japan never led for as much as one second Monday night until Ukyo Shuto touched home with the winning run.
Japan had its stars to thank for this victory. Among them, the three, four and five hitters (Shohei Ohtani, Masataka Yoshida and Munetaka Murakami) who scored three runs and drove home five of Japan’s six runs while banging out six hits.
Three of those hits were for extra bases, and all three came from the seventh inning on.
The game started out as a pitcher’s duel between starters Roki Sasaki and Patrick Sandoval. Neither team threatened until the fourth, when Sasaki allowed two-out singles to Rowdy Tellez and Isaac Paredes, then got taken deep by light-hitting Luis Urias for a 3-0 Mexico lead.
That lead held up through fifth- and sixth-inning Japan threats. In each inning, the Japanese loaded the bases but failed to score.
But after Japan’s Kensuke Kondoh touched reliever Jose Urquidy for a two-out base hit in the seventh, Mexico manager Benji Gil sent to his pen for left-hander Eddie Romero to face Ohtani and Yoshida, both left-handed hitters. That move backfired big-time. Ohtani walked and Yoshida poled a game-tying home run just inside the right field foul pole.
Monday turned out to be a great night to be in the Boston Red Sox orbit. Moments after Yoshida’s homer tied the game, future Red Sox teammate Alex Verdugo untied it with an eighth-inning double that scored Randy Arozarena. A Paredes base hit scored pinch runner Jarren Duran (another Red Sox employee) later that inning with Mexico’s fifth run.
Japan still trailed 5-4 entering the bottom of the ninth, but the middle of the order made short work of Gallegos’ closer efforts. Ohtani drove his first pitch into the right-center field gap for a double, and Yoshida walked on just five pitches, none of the four balls close to the strike zone.
With Shuto running for Yoshida, Murakami — a power-hitting legend in Japan — got a 1-1 fastball down the middle and powered it high off the wall in dead center, allowing Shuto to race around the bases behind Ohtani with the walk-off winning run.
The victory sets up a Tuesday showdown for the championship between a Japanese team that is undefeated and a Team USA that has scored 23 runs in its last two elimination games. Japan is expected to start Yu Darvish, and Ohtani is believed to be available in relief if needed. Team USA manager Mark DeRosa will send Arizona Diamondbacks starter Merrill Kelly for the mound assignment.
UPDATE: Shota Imanaga will now start for Japan rather than Darvish.