Weeks of exciting international baseball all came down to this: USA vs. Japan. Shohei Ohtani vs. Mike Trout -- for the World Baseball Classic title.
The final game of the 2023 WBC, between the tournament's two most dominant teams, ended with the matchup everyone was hoping to see. Ohtani struck out his Los Angeles Angels teammate in the ninth inning to close out a 3-2 victory for Japan. The win gives Japan its third WBC title and ends Team USA's quest for a repeat crown.
We have you covered with everything you need to know for the WBC grand finale, from best moments to postgame takeaways.
Baseball world reacts to Japan's WBC victory
Takeaways from the WBC final
What went right for Japan?
It utilized its bullpen perfectly -- for the fans, considering the epic matchup that finished this tournament, but mostly to set itself up for a win. There were questions around why Yu Darvish didn't start, but Shota Imanaga held the U.S. to one run in the first two innings and the bullpen took it from there. In all, seven pitchers were utilized, six of whom are starters. Darvish pitched the eighth inning, nearly giving up the lead, and paved the way for Ohtani, who walked to the bullpen after sliding into second base on a double play. He tossed a few warmup pitches, checked back into the game -- and recorded the save. -- Alden Gonzalez
What went wrong for the U.S.?
Team USA simply didn't capitalize on run-scoring opportunities. And in a game with such a small margin for error, against a team with so much talent, that proved to be the difference. The U.S. went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position, its worst mark ever in the World Baseball Classic. In the second, third, fifth and seventh innings, the U.S. had two runners on base who failed to score. In the ninth, Jeff McNeil drew a leadoff walk against Ohtani, but Mookie Betts bounced into a double play and Trout struck out -- whiffing on a full-count slider after getting four consecutive 100-mph fastballs. -- Gonzalez
We finally got the at-bat we'd all been waiting for. What was your favorite part of Ohtani vs. Trout?
That Ohtani came with a slider. Trout saw four consecutive 100-plus mile-and-hour fastballs in his epic ninth-inning showdown against his two-way teammate. The count had run full, Japan led by a single run. Everyone in the building probably thought Ohtani would challenge Trout with another fastball. Instead, he flipped a slider, his third-most utilized pitch in 2022, and Trout swung way early. -- Gonzalez
The utter perfection of the entire situation. Getting Ohtani vs. Trout in any situation would've been a treat. Getting Ohtani vs. Trout in a one-run game with two outs in the ninth inning and watching it go to a full count with the championship on the line is a 100th-percentile outcome. Sometimes sports moments unfold with drama and stakes that don't seem real. This was real, and it was spectacular. -- Jeff Passan
Was there a managerial decision in the final that left you scratching your head?
The use of Darvish. He was lined up to start, and he had only accumulated five innings throughout this World Baseball Classic, scant enough usage for the Padres to worry whether he'd be prepared for Opening Day. Instead, Darvish waited in the bullpen, acted as a setup reliever and clearly was not sharp in the eighth inning. Maybe Japan knew something the rest of us didn't. -- Gonzalez
As excellent a defensive outfielder as Cedric Mullins is, his six plate appearances in the WBC going into the championship game were the third-fewest on Team USA, ahead of only third catcher Kyle Higashioka and 22-year-old Bobby Witt Jr. So to see him get the start and relegate Pete Alonso to the bench came as a surprise. Manager Mark DeRosa said he wanted Mullins in for the defensive upgrade he provided, but he wound up going 0 for 4 on a night when offense was in short supply. -- Passan
What will be your lasting impression of this WBC?
That the players bought in. That the energy in the ballpark was incredible. That the tournament somehow exceeded the lofty expectations it carried heading into it. This year's World Baseball Classic will undoubtedly grow the game throughout the world. It'll grow the game in Mexico, thanks to a Randy Arozarena-led team that exceeded expectations. It'll grow the game in places like the Czech Republic and Taiwan, which produced record viewership. And, one would think, it'll grow the game in the United States, where the excitement was palpable. -- Gonzalez
Perhaps it's recency bias, but this felt different than past WBCs -- bigger, more important. The ultimate test of this will come not only in players who commit for 2026 or television ratings the next time around but a dozen years from now, when the major leaguers at the time point to the 2023 WBC as a moment from their childhood they remember the same way Japan star Munetaka Murakami said he wanted to play in the tournament after watching it in 2009. -- Passan
What are you most looking forward to in the 2026 WBC?
There's one big step that needs to be taken in this tournament: Fewer restrictions on pitchers. It's understandable; this tournament comes at a time when pitchers need to be building up innings for the regular season, and any break from that schedule can significantly throw them off for April. The next step for the World Baseball Classic is for major league teams to let pitchers prioritize this tournament while it's happening -- so long as they're careful enough to avoid injury -- then simply recalibrate once they return to spring training. Easier said than done, probably. -- Gonzalez
More buy-in. From major league teams who could easily use the Edwin Diaz and Jose Altuve injuries as excuses to cajole players into skipping the tournament. From front-end pitchers who saw Japan trotting out Ohtani, Roki Sasaki, Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Darvish and know their country wasn't doing the same. From fans who need to stop treating the event as if it's just an exhibition, rather than an exhibition with meaning. From networks who can promote games on channels with the largest possible audiences. There's a clear path to making the WBC bigger and better. All it will take is commitment. -- Passan