• BASEBALL

Ohtani, Japan Rally in 9th, Edge Mexico 6-5, Reach WBC Final

AP Photo / Wilfredo Lee
Japan players celebrate after beating Mexico 6-5 during a World Baseball Classic game, March 20, 2023, in Miami.

MIAMI (AP) — Shohei Ohtani sparked a ninth-inning rally with a leadoff double, and Munetaka Murakami hit a walk-off, two-run double to lift Japan over Mexico 6-5 Monday night and into the World Baseball Classic final.

Yu Darvish is set to start when Japan faces the defending champion United States in Tuesday night’s championship game — Japan has won the tournament twice, Team USA has done it once. Merrill Kelly is likely to start for the U.S. side.

Ohtani went 2 for 4. The Los Angeles Angels star scored in the seventh when Masataka Yoshida hit a tying, three-run homer off reliever JoJo Romero.

Ohtani’s double off Giovanny Gallegos was his fourth of the tournament. After Ohtani got the rally started, Yoshida walked to bring up Murakami.

The game began as a pitching duel between Rōki Sasaki and Patrick Sandoval, but Japan’s offensive power proved too much for Mexico’s relievers.

Sasaki struck out three in four innings in his first appearance on a global stage.

Dozens of MLB officials were in attendance scouting Sasaki, who’s entry into the majors is all-but-certainly forthcoming in the future after he became a sensation last year in his second season with the Pacific League’s Chiba Lotte Marines. Many are already mentioning the 21-year-old right-hander in the class of his Samurai Japan teammate, Ohtani.

Twenty six of Sasaki’s 64 pitches eclipsed 100 mph.

In the fourth, Luis Urías launched Sasaki’s 90.8 mph cutter for a three-run homer to left-center field. The drive scored Rowdy Tellez and Isaac Paredes, who reached with two of the five hits Sasaki gave up.

Sandoval struck out six and allowed just four hits in four scoreless innings before he was replaced by José Urquidy.

AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee
Japan players celebrate after beating Mexico 6-5 during a World Baseball Classic game, March 20, 2023, in Miami.