Baseball was at one point the most popular sport in America but has now in many regards become the country’s pastime. Other countries have been taking more interest in professional baseball despite its declining popularity in America. This is evident from this year’s World Baseball Classic (WBC). With Japan & the United States playing in the finals - attracting viewers from across the world, tuning in for the championship game.
The WBC is an international baseball tournament organized by the International Baseball Federation where 16 countries compete against each other. The first tournament took place in 2006 after Major League Baseball (MLB) denied its players from playing in the summer Olympics because it took place at the same time as the MLB season. It is played every four years, except for the 2021 WBC which took place in 2023 due to concerns about COVID-19.
NLB, Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), and other professional players from various leagues made it a priority to participate in this year’s WBC. With players taking great pride in being able to represent their country.
“No matter the position you play, the most important thing is that we are representing our country and we have one name, Venezuela,” Eduardo Escobar said. Escobar, the third baseman for the New York Mets is a native Venezuelan who was signed as an international free agent in 2010. His country would later advance to the quarterfinals, eventually suffering defeat Team USA.
Here is a breakdown of how the bracket for the WBC works:
Round 1: The tournament begins with a group stage consisting of four groups, each featuring four teams. The teams in each group compete in a round-robin format, with the top two teams advancing to the next round. The games in this round are played at multiple locations.
Round 2: The second round features two groups, each consisting of four teams. The top two teams from each group in Round 1 are placed in separate groups for Round 2. The teams in each group compete in a round-robin format, with the top two teams from each group advancing to the semifinals. The games in this round are played at a single location.
Semifinals: The top two teams from each group in Round 2 play in a single-elimination format in the semifinals. The winners of each semifinal game advance to the championship game.
Championship game: The winners of the semifinals play in a single championship game to determine the winner of the World Baseball Classic.
This year Team Japan won the championship against Team USA by a score of 3-2, despite having a lineup filled with proven MLB All-Stars like Mike Trout and Mookie Betts. Yet, they were no match for the likes of Munetaka Murakami or phenom Shoei Ohtani who is called the “Japanese Babe Ruth” for his ability to both pitch and hit.
The scoring started with a solo home run by Team USA star Trea Turner to make it 1-0 in the top of the 2nd inning. That didn’t last long as Murakami, a 23-year-old who broke the home run record for a Japanese-born player in the NPB the previous season, answered with his solo shot during the bottom of the inning. Before the inning could end Japan scored another run after an RBI groundout by St. Louis Cardinals utility player Lars Nootbar to make the score 2-1.
Japan added another run when third baseman, Kazuma Okamoto, hit a solo home run to lead off the 4th inning. The score remained 3-1 until Kyle Schwarber hit a home run off Yu Darvish, an MLB player representing his home country, in the 8th inning. The home run came after a 10-pitch at-bat with nobody on base making it a 3-2 game going into the 9th inning.
With a one-run lead, Japan called for Shoei Ohtani, who was the designated hitter, to close the game on the mound. Ohtani got Mookie Betts to ground into a double play after walking the lead-off hitter. For the final out Ohtani had to face his Los Angeles Angels teammate and generational player Mike Trout. This was the match-up everyone was looking forward to since the start of the tournament - teammates and two of the best players alive.
Ohtani fell behind in the count by 2 balls to one strike after throwing a couple of fastballs that read over 100 miles per hour. The Japanese star threw another triple-digit fastball down the middle that Trout swung at and missed. The count reached 3-2 when Ohtani threw a slider that broke away from a swinging Trout, officially ending the game with a strikeout.
"I think every baseball fan wanted to see that [matchup versus Ohtani]. I've been answering questions about it for the last month and a half," said Trout, Ohtani's Angels teammate since 2018.
"This is the best moment in my life," Ohtani said through his translator. The two-way star was voted MVP of the WBC after batting .435 with one homer, four doubles, eight RBIs, and 10 walks while going 2-0 with a save and a 1.86 ERA on the mound, striking out 11 in 9 2/3 innings.
This was Japan’s third WBC Champion title in the tournament’s 17-year history. It is estimated that over half of the Japanese population was viewing the championship game whether it was at home, during school or work, or at a public viewing. Along with over 4 million viewers watching in America. With an increasing number of viewers at each tournament, many are already looking forward to the next one in 2026.
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