Japan rallies in 9th to walk off Mexico, will face USA in WBC finals
Japan pulled off an epic comeback, beating Mexico in the World Baseball Classic semifinal 6-5 via walk off Monday at loanDepot Park in Miami.
The decisive play came off the bat of Munetaka Murakami, the NPB's home run king, who hit a two-run double off Mexican closer Giovanny Gallegos with no outs in the ninth inning.
Murakami, who became the first Japanese player to hit 56 homers in a single season last year and surpassed Sadaharu Oh's record, cashed in Shohei Ohtani and Masataka Yoshida on the play. Ohtani reached base with a first-pitch leadoff double while Yoshida, who hit a game-tying three-run homer in the seventh to get Japan back into the contest, walked in the following plate appearance.
"I was thinking about bunting," Murakami quipped through an interpreter about his game-winning at-bat, according to Shawn Spradling.
Japan, which trailed 3-0 as late as the seventh inning and did not take a lead until the walk off, will face the United States in the final Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET in Miami.
Japan is expected to turn to southpaw Shota Imanaga in the gold-medal tilt. Both Yu Darvish and Shohei Ohtani could be available in relief. Team USA will counter with Arizona Diamondbacks righty Merrill Kelly.
"Japan advances but the baseball world won tonight," Mexico manager Benji Gil said following his team's defeat, according to James Wagner of the New York Times.
This was the furthest Mexico had ever made it in the tournament, which featured an expanded format to get more countries involved.
"I feel like we won a championship," the Mexican skipper continued, according to ESPN's Marly Rivera. "We lost but we're not defeated. It was a win for Mexico."
Japan will be looking for its third WBC title after winning in 2006 and 2009. Meanwhile, America will be attempting to defend its 2017 championship. The two countries have not met in the finals before and neither have lost when making an appearance in the championship game.
While 21-year-old sensation Roki Sasaki impressed starting for Japan, he ultimately couldn't handle Mexico's bats and was chased from the game after surrendering three runs on five hits over four innings while notching three strikeouts. Taisei Ota wound up earning the win in relief, shutting down Mexico in the top of the ninth with a perfect inning and one strikeout.
Gallegos, the St. Louis Cardinals closer, took the loss, failing to record an out while allowing the two runs on a pair of hits and one walk.