Shohei Ohtani pulled double duty on Tuesday night as part of Japan's 3-2 win against Team USA in the World Baseball Classic finals, entering to begin the ninth inning and closing out the game and the WBC championship. In a storybook ending, Ohtani faced and struck out his Los Angeles Angels teammate Mike Trout, retiring him for the final out in what might serve as the most memorable at-bat of the year between the two best players in the world.
Ohtani had to deal with a couple other batters before he locked horns with Trout. Jeff McNeil, who had subbed in for Tim Anderson earlier in the game, drew a walk to the begin the frame. Ohtani responded by inducing a double-play ball off Mookie Betts' bat, setting the stage for Trout to come up as the tying run with two outs in the ninth.
"I was hoping there wouldn't be anybody [on base when Trout came up,]" Ohtani told reporters after the game. "Of course, the first batter went on to the base, so I was a little bit disappointed."
Ohtani started Trout off with a breaking ball that missed, running the count to 1-0. He showed no desire to nibble, however, and he blew a 100 mph fastball past Trout to even things at 1-1. Ohtani threw another fastball, this time missing the zone, giving Trout a 2-1 advantage. As Ohtani had earlier in the at-bat, he reared back and threw another 100 mph past Trout, again evening the count at 2-2. A yanked fastball meant that Ohtani and Trout would proceed with a full count, at which point he threw a slider that Trout swung through to end the contest.
SHOHEI OHTANI STRIKES OUT MIKE TROUT TO WIN THE #WORLDBASEBALLCLASSIC! pic.twitter.com/F7vUtIiRR1— MLB (@MLB) March 22, 2023
"Of course [I had some certain type of a plan]," Ohtani told reporters after the game about his encounter with Trout. "But of course, I think the [target] is depending upon the batter."
How rare is it for Trout to swing and miss three times in a single at-bat? According to Codify, it's happened just 24 times in his 6,174 big-league plate appearances (0.38%):
If you aren't impressed, you should be. Mike Trout has had 3 swinging strikes in only 24 of his 6,174 career MLB plate appearances!pic.twitter.com/VTlcRnAgPH— Codify (@CodifyBaseball) March 22, 2023
And how good was the slider Ohtani broke out to end the encounter? Kyle Kishimoto, an author at FanGraphs, used a pitch analysis tool and found that the pitch's characteristics exceeded the 20-80 scale. In other words, it wasn't just as good as it gets, it was a little better:
Shohei Ohtani's last sweeper to strike out Mike Trout literally broke the 20-80 scale. 87 mph with 17 inches of sweep after averaging 99.6 on the heater that inning. Combined with the pinpoint location on the outer edge, that slider was as close to a perfect pitch as it gets. pic.twitter.com/RHyl0cErAP— Kyle Kishimoto (@kylemoto10) March 22, 2023
Ohtani also went 1 for 3 with the bat, notching an infield single in the seventh inning. He was Mr. Everything in another respect, too, as he also delivered what proved to be an inspiring pregame speech, telling his teammates: "Let's stop admiring them. ... If you admire them, you can't surpass them," according to Dylan Hernández of the Los Angeles Times. "We came here to surpass them, to reach the top. For one day, let's throw away our admiration for them and just think about winning."
2023 WORLD BASEBALL CLASSIC™— 野球日本代表 侍ジャパン 公式 (@samuraijapan_pr) March 21, 2023
決勝・アメリカ戦の円陣声出しは #大谷翔平 選手！
▼侍ジャパン試合速報https://t.co/PnCFO1PH8P#侍ジャパン #WorldBaseballClassic pic.twitter.com/VASNb5iBJV
Ohtani, Japan's designated hitter, went to the bullpen before the top of the sixth inning, while his team was on defense and after his spot in the order had passed. Japan's lineup turned over, however, causing him to return to the dugout in between at-bats. He later rejoined the bullpen after taking his next at-bat, and he started to warm seriously during the eighth inning, with Padres right-hander Yu Darvish on the mound.
The two-way superstar's availability for Tuesday's game had previously been in question. Angels manager Phil Nevin told reporters last week that the plan was for Ohtani to pitch for the Angels in a spring training game on the 24th, paving the way for him to then start on Opening Day, March 30.
Ohtani, for his part, later refuted that there was a plan in place. When Angels general manager Perry Minasian was asked about the possibility of Ohtani pitching against Team USA, he took a different tone, saying the decision "his call." Clearly Ohtani decided he was down to pitch.
Ohtani's participation in the tournament, and his decision to pitch in the championship game, is notable. At a time when there's a raging debate about the injury risk associated with the WBC, the game's top impending free agent didn't just play -- he went above and beyond to ensure that his country would walk away champions.