2023 World Baseball Classic Recap

white background with black letters spelling out World Baseball classic. Red numbers below the words showing the year 2023. Finally a blue, green, orange, and red pin wheel with a white dot in the middle to the left of the words.

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World Baseball Classic 2023 logo.

Miles Salvi

The World Baseball Classic is an international baseball tournament where countries from around the world compete to see who is the best. The tournament occurs every 4 years and has been increasing in popularity in the last couple of tournaments.  Pool play was held in 4 locations this year, Taiwan, Japan, Miami, and Phoenix.  The quarter-finals were held in Miami and Japan.  Finally, The semi-finals and Championship games were held in Miami. This year’s Classic was filled with storylines from start to finish.  

Japan was the most dominant team in the Classic, running the table from start to finish and going undefeated, winning their third World Baseball Classic Championship.  Shohei Ohtani, Munetaka Murakami, Roki Sasaki, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, and Masataka Yoshida led team Japan past the reigning champions of the world baseball classic, team USA.  Now let’s rewind to see how this tournament played out.  First was the group stage, where teams were placed into 4 groups of 5.  Each team played the other 4 in their pool, and the top two teams advanced to the quarterfinal round.  

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Xander Bogaerts, playing for the Kingdom of the Netherlands. (Getty Images)

Pool A was easily the craziest pool.  Pool A was made up of Cuba, Italy, The Netherlands, Panama, and Chinese Taipei.  Every team in this pool finished 2-2.  Cuba and Italy advanced because they allowed the least amount of runs per innings they played.  The Netherlands had looked good to advance after winning the first two games, but they then lost their last two and ended up finishing 3rd in the pool.

Pool B had some of the most electric teams in the tournament.  The pool was composed of Japan, Australia, South Korea, The Czech Republic, and China.  Japan led by superstar Shohei Ohtani won the pool, going 4-0.  Coming into the pool, most people thought that Korea would advance with Japan, but it was Australia that advanced after beating Korea in their first game.

Pool C was home to the favorite to win the whole tournament, The Dominican Republic.  The other teams in this pool were Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, and Israel.  Shockingly, The Dominican Republic was eliminated from this pool.  Venezuela took first, going 4-0 and Puerto Rico beat the Dominican Republic in their last game to eliminate the Dominicans and advance to the next round.

Pool D was made up of the local favorites.  The USA, Mexico, Canada, Columbia, and Great Britain were all in this pool.  Mexico won the pool, going 3-1, and surprised the world by upsetting the USA.  The USA finished second also going 3-1.  At the beginning of pool play, the USA started slow, but in their last two games, they looked like the USA we expected to see.

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Quater-final WBC bracket

The teams who advanced out of the group stage were then placed, based on how they finished within their pool, into 4 quarterfinal matchups. The first quarter-final was between Cuba and Australia. It was a good back-and-forth game with Cuba coming out on top 4-3.  The next quarter-final was between Japan and Italy.  This was Italy’s first year in the World Baseball Classic, so just getting out of pool play was an accomplishment.  Japan cruised by them 9-3.  The third quarter-final match-up was Puerto Rico vs Mexico.  Puerto Rico jumped out to an early 4-0 lead in the first inning, but Mexico shut them out the rest of the game and was able to claw back and win 5-4.  The last quarter-final was between the USA and Venezuela.  This was the best match-up of the quarter-final round.  Both teams were loaded with major league stars.  The USA was able to advance with a 9-7 victory.

The USA then had to turn around and play their semifinal game against Cuba the day after taking down Venezuela.  The USA gave up a run in the top of the first inning, but after that, they never looked back.  They proceeded to put up 14 runs over the rest of the game and only let Cuba score one more run.  The USA advanced to the final game with a 14-2 win.  The second semifinal matchup was between Mexico and Japan.  Mexico jumped ahead early with a 3-run home run and held that lead until Japan answered in the 7th with a 3-run home run of their own.  Mexico immediately answered back with two of their own in the top of the 8th to bring the score to 5-3.  In the bottom of the 8th, Japan got one back to make it 5-4 going into the 9th inning.  Japan held Mexico scoreless in the top half and in the bottom half, Munetaka Murakami came through with a two-run double to walk off Japan into the final.

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Shohei Ohtani after striking out Mike Trout to win the WBC. (Marta Lavandier / Associated Press)

The USA got the scoring going early in the winner take all championship game with a Trea Turner solo home run in the top of the second inning.  Japan answered right back in the bottom half of the inning, gathering two runs on a Munetaka Murakami solo home run and a Lars Nootbaar RBI ground-out.  Japan added to their lead in the 4th inning when Kazuma Okamoto blasted a solo home run.  The USA clawed back into the game in the 8th with a home run off the bat of Kyle Schwarber that brought the score back to 3-2.  In the 9th, Japan brought their superstar, Shohei Ohtani, in to close the game.  Ohtani started the inning by walking Jeff McNeil but was then able to get Mookie Betts to ground into a double play.  That would set up the most entertaining at-bat in World Baseball Classic history, Ohtani vs Trout.  Ohtani and Trout are teammates on the Los Angeles Angels, and now they are facing off against one another with the World Baseball Classic Championship on the line.  Ohtani started with a pitch that missed down and away, but he then came back to even the count on a well-located pitch on the outside corner.  Ohtani then missed away with a breaking ball to bring the count to 2-1.  Next, Ohtani grooved a fastball down the middle that Trout swung through.  Trout then did a good job laying off Ohtani’s 2-2 slider away to bring the count to 3-2.  Ohtani then threw a slider that started on the plate and broke just off of it.  Trout swung through the slider, ending the game and giving Japan a 3-2 victory.  

Now, here are some of the other big moments from the World Baseball Classic.  One of the biggest storylines in this tournament was the Czech Republic team.  This group only had one player who had ever played in the major leagues, Eric Sogard who was last in the majors in 2021.  The rest of the team had day jobs.  Some examples are Martin Schneider-firefighter, Arnošt Dubový-high school geography teacher, Ondrej Satoria-electrician, and Martin Červenka-Sales representative.  This group of unlikely players got to play against some of the best teams in the world like Japan, Australia, and Korea.  They were also able to win their game against China 8-5 which made sure that they automatically qualified for the 2026 World Baseball Classic.

Another great story from the WBC was Duque Herbert’s.  In the 9th inning of Nicaragua’s game against the Dominican Republic, the 21-year-old pitcher took the mound, with his team losing 6-1.  What happened next changed the course of his life forever.  He came in to face MLB Superstars Juan Soto, Julio Rodriguez, Manny Machado, and Rafiel Devers.  The young right-hander started the inning by striking out Soto and Rodriguez, with both of them showing respect to him.  Manny Machado then doubled, but it did not matter because Herbert went on to strike out Devers as well.  After the stellar outing, he received from the Detroit Tigers, who offered him a minor league contract in their organization.