Team USA's repeat bid as World Baseball Classic champions has failed.
Japan topped the U.S. 3-2 in the 2023 World Baseball Classic Final on Tuesday at loanDepot park in a thrilling encounter between two of the sport's elite nations.
After a scoreless first inning for both sides, Team USA opened the account from a likely source in the top of the second. On a 2-1 count with one out, Philadelphia Phillies’ Trea Turner launched a solo homer to left field.
But the U.S. couldn’t tack on more, and Japan responded immediately. Munetaka Murakami, the hero behind Japan’s walk-off winner vs. Mexico in the semifinal, absolutely crushed a solo homer to the right-field upper deck.
In the same inning with the bases loaded, Lars Nootbar grounded out to first, but Kazuma Okamoto scored before the U.S. could do anything about it, making it 2-1 for Japan.
Okamoto then returned to add the scoreboard in the bottom of the fourth. On a 0-1 count with nobody on and no outs, the 26-year-old sent a homer to left centerfield, pushing the lead to 3-1.
Team USA’s defense stayed on point to keep the score at 3-1, but the offense just couldn’t find any momentum. The best opportunity to cut the deficit came in the top of the seventh.
Jeff McNeil walked on the leadoff at-bat and Mookie Betts singled to left, so there were two runners on and no outs. But Mike Trout lined out to right on the ensuing at-bat, then Paul Goldschmidt fell into a groundout double play right after.
Team USA finally got its next score in the top of the eighth when Kyle Schwarber replicated Murakami’s deep right-field homer from the second inning. It came on a 2-2 count with one out and nobody on as Yu Darvish entered the game for the first time to help end it.
The top of the ninth inning came with pure box-office drama. Shohei Ohtani replaced Darvish's sole inning to close it out, but he walked McNeil on a 3-2 count, prompting Bobby Witt Jr. to pinch run from first.
Mookie Betts came out next -- he went 2-for-4 prior to the at-bat -- but he also fell into a groundout double play.
As if the script couldn't be finished any better, it came down to Ohtani vs. Mike Trout in the last at-bat. The two Los Angeles Angels teammates went at it, but Ohtani edged Trout by striking him out swinging on a 3-2 count.
The win pushes Japan's tally to three all-time in the tournament, the most of any nation. The U.S. could've tied Japan with two titles apiece after taking home the title in 2017, but that won't be the case.
Japan also finished the tournament undefeated: 9-1 vs. China, 13-4 vs. Republic of Korea, 10-2 vs. Czech Republic, 7-1 vs. Australia, 9-3 vs. Italy, 6-5 vs. Mexico and 3-2 vs. USA. The Dominican Republic is the only other nation to do so when it won the title in 2013.
With the 2023 WBC now in the books, the U.S. will now turn its attention to the 2023 MLB regular season with Opening Day slated for March 30.