Star pitcher Shohei Ohtani is excited to face Los Angeles Angels teammate Mike Trout when Japan plays Team USA for the World Baseball Classic crown Tuesday.
The former AL MVP sparked a comeback win against Mexico in the semifinals Monday night for Japan which set up the possibility of a dream matchup of Ohtani pitching to Trout.
After spearheading the 6-5 victory, Ohtani confirmed that he plans to pitch and hit in the final showdown, although, his time on the mound will come in the unfamiliar role of relief pitcher.
He last started five days ago, and having never thrown on four or fewer days of rest in the MLB, is in a position to follow Japan’s starter, left-hander Shota Imanaga, as well as San Diego Padres star Yu Darvish, who is expected to throw in the middle innings.
And the prospect of the pitching sensation facing a star-studded American billing that trounced Cuba 14-2 in its semifinal is not only mouthwatering for fans but for Ohtani himself too.
Pitcher Shohei Ohtani (L) is excited to face LA Angels teammate Mike Trout (R) in WBC final
The former AL MVP confirmed that he plans to pitch and hit in Japan’s showdown with USA
‘Not only Mike Trout, but one through nine in that order is filled with superstars, household names,’ Ohtani said, via ESPN. ‘Just excited to face that lineup. It’s a great thing for Japanese baseball.’
Japan’s semifinal clash with Mexico was a thriller offering fans tension, drama and heroics as the Samurai bounced back from a 3-0 deficit.
Japan never led until the last hit of the game – having been down 3-0 and then 5-3 to Mexico over the course of the contest.
Mexico closer Giovanni Gallegos gave up a double to Ohtani and then walked Masataka Yoshida, who was lifted for for pinch runner Ukyo Shuto, to set up the game winning hit for Munetaka Murkami.
The excitement of the game clearly got to Ohtani. As he stood on second base, he screamed toward Japan’s dugouts and raised his arms in exultation twice.
‘It’s been a while since I was playing in a win-or-lose game, a playoff atmosphere game,’ said Ohtani, who has not reached the postseason with the Angels. ‘So obviously, we couldn’t lose, and I wanted to get the guys riled up in the dugout.’
The last time Ohtani pitched out of the bullpen was in 2016 in the postseason with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.
The then-22-year-old threw one blemish-free inning and unleashed a pair of fastballs clocked at 165 kilometers per hour – approximately 102.5 mph.
Ohtani said that during that game he took an at-bat, went to throw in a bullpen, took another at-bat and went into the game.
Munetaka Murakami (pictured) scored Ohtani and Ukyo Shuto to win the game for Japan
Japan players came spilling out onto the field – off to their third WBC championship game
As he stood on second base, Ohtani shouted toward Japan’s dugouts and raised his arms
He admitted it will be harder to get warmed up as designated hitter but insisted he will be prepared.
‘I will be prepared. Obviously, I’m DHing, so it’s going to be hard to find that time to get hot in the bullpen.’
While he insisted that just reaching the final is an accomplishment, he has his eyes on winning the whole thing.
‘Obviously, it’s a big accomplishment to get to the championship series, but there’s a huge difference from being in first and second,’ Ohtani said, ‘so I’m going to do all I can to get that first place.’
The WBC has faced backlash over the past week after major league stars sustained injuries, most notably a season-ending tendon tear for the New York Mets’ $120m pitcher Edwin Diaz.
But the Angels will just have to watch on and hope their two-star emerges unharmed before joining them in Arizona to finish Spring Training.
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