Shohei Ohtani played the biggest game of his career Tuesday night as Japan faced and defeated the United States in the World Baseball Classic final.
While Major League Baseball fans aren’t used to seeing too much emotion in the superstar pitcher/designated hitter, Ohtani’s pregame speech to his Japanese teammates went viral and made sure they didn’t get caught up in time to play against some of America’s best athletes.
«Let’s stop admiring them,» Ohtani told the Los Angeles Times. «…If you admire them, you can’t surpass them. We came here to surpass them, to rise to the top. For one day, let’s throw away our admiration for them and just think about winning.»
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Japan would support that message and defeat the USA 3-2 to win their third World Baseball Classic tournament.
Ohtani also had a chance to pitch in the game, as had been speculated in the hours leading up to the matchup. He received the ball in the ninth for a save opportunity to clinch the Classic, while already going 1 for 3 with a walk, and due to face defending National League hitting champion Jeff McNeil at the 2018 AL MVP Mookie Betts and his Los Angeles Angels teammate, three-time AL MVP Mike Trout.
It was Ohtani’s first relief appearance since 2016, and he didn’t start well when he walked McNeil to lead off the inning and put the go-ahead run at the plate. Bobby Witt Jr. pinch-ran, but it was moot as Betts rolled into a 4-6-3 double play.
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Trout arrived, the matchup the entire baseball world had been waiting for all day, and Ohtani was clearly prepared for it: He hit a fastball up to 102 mph.
Ultimately, Ohtani won the battle, causing Trout to submit with a 3-2 slider, giving Japan the World Baseball Classic trophy.
Trea Turner had put the Americans up 1-0 early with a solo home run. But the team would fall behind later in the game.
Japan won the inaugural Clasico and the second in 2009. The Dominican Republic took home the trophy in 2013 and the United States won in 2017.
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Next week, the baseball world will turn its attention to MLB’s Opening Day.
Fox News’ Ryan Morik contributed to this report.