After just 15 days, the 2023 edition of the World Baseball Classic is over and boy, was it a memorable one. Here are my (Monty) Top 5 moments from the WBC plus some honorable mentions.
South Korea and Japan played in Pool B on March 10th with the Japanese dominating their rivals by a score of 13-4. The atmosphere in Tokyo was insane and combined with a cup of coffee, helped me stay awake while watching at 5 o’clock in the morning. The significant “moment” is more of an astonishing fact than a moment, but I am counting it. Over 163 million people tuned into that game, and while I expect the numbers for the WBC Final to have eclipsed that, it’s still insane considering that only a very small fraction of that number is Americans given the time of the game. For reference, the most watched World Series game of all-time was viewed by 54 million people back in 1980.
Speaking of South Korea, they were heavy favorites to advance with Japan out of Pool B. That plan went out of the window immediately after a shocking upset saw Australia beat the Koreans 8-7 to open their tournament. With Japan looming in their second game, South Korea’s quarterfinals dreams were instantly in danger as starting 0-2 would be almost impossible to overcome. They did start 0-2 and even their 22-2 win over China in the final game of Pool play would not be enough as Australia advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time.
The United States were the heavy favorites to cruise through Pool C and many expected them to do so undefeated. But Washington Nationals outfielder Joey Meneses and Team Mexico had other ideas when the two teams met on March 12th. Meneses clubbed two moonshots and Mexico thumped the United States, 11-5. Statement made.
Pool A got the tournament started on March 7th when the Netherlands beat Cuba 4-2. The Netherlands were expected to advance, but people wondered whether the Cubans had the firepower beyond Luis Robert and Yoan Moncada to do the same. The Netherlands started 2-0 and looked poised to win the group while the Cubans were 0-2 and almost certainly out. Likewise, Team Italy was 1-2 and things were looking dire for them as well. Cue the chaos. With Cuba beating Chinese Taipei and Italy stunning the Dutch in their final games, all 5 teams in Pool A finished at 2-2. That allowed Cuba and Italy, both on life support just days prior, to advance based on tiebreakers.
Puerto Rico was flying high after stunning the Dominican Republic to eliminate the tournament favorites in Pool D. Despite a dominant win over the US and winning Pool C, Mexico was still flying under the radar, which was no problem for known big game player Randy Arozarena and company. Down 4-0 immediately and still trailing 4-2 in the bottom of the 7th, Team Mexico took a 5-4 lead and held on to win.
5. Czech Republic Wins A Game
The vast majority of the Czech Republic’s roster was made up of part-time baseball players. Their center fielder was a high school teacher. One of the relievers they called upon in this game was a literal fireman. Nobody expected them to make the World Baseball Classic, much less win a game. Yet in their very first try, against China in Tokyo, the Czech Republic stunned the world by winning 8-5. It was first baseman Martin Muzik providing the signature moment, with his team down 5-4 in the 9th inning, as he clubbed a 3-run blast to give them the lead for the final time.
4. Japan Walks Off Mexico
As previously mentioned, Mexico had already stunned the United States and Puerto Rico. Were they about to add Japan to their list? Up 5-4 with just 3 defensive outs to get in the penultimate game of the tournament, Mexico turned to St. Louis Cardinals closer Giovanny Gallegos to face Japan’s three most dangerous hitters: Shohei Ohtani, Masataka Yoshida, and Munetaka Murikami. Things immediately got off to a rocky start as Ohtani casually doubled to right centerfield gap. Yoshida drew a walk to put the winning run on first base. Despite struggling in previous ABs, the reigning NPB MVP, Munetaka Murikama put a charge into the ball that went over the outfielders and landed up against the wall. Ohtani scored easily from second with pinch runner Ukyo Shuto almost literally on his back to stun Team Mexico and win the game 5-4. It was electric.
3. Puerto Rico Knocks Out Dominican Republic
Prior to the tournament, everyone was ready to proclaim the Dominican Republic as the best team ever assembled. They had Sandy Alcantara and Cristian Javier pitching. Juan Soto, Manny Machado, Julio Rodriguez, and Rafael Devers anchored a deep and scary lineup. They’re going to go undefeated, right? Wrong. A stunning 5-1 loss to Venezuela opened their WBC and they needed to beat Puerto Rico just to advance. In the 3rd inning Puerto Rico dropped 4 on the Dominican Republic and never looked back. Elite New York Mets closer Edwin Diaz nailed down the 9th for the 5-2 win, which ended up being marred by Diaz tearing his ACL during the celebrations. This sparked off almost a week of debates over the importance of the WBC, with the overwhelming majority in favor of this amazing tournament.
2. Trea Turner Grand Slam
What a moment. Team USA was down 7-5 after 7 innings in the quarterfinals to undefeated Venezuela. The bases were loaded for Team USA and newly signed Philadelphia Phillie Trea Turner stepped to the plate and delivered perhaps the most iconic moment in USA’s WBC history. It was a swing and a drive deep to left that Trea knew was gone the moment the ball left his bat. Marlins Park in Miami, often ridiculed for its lack of fans during the regular season, was filled to capacity for this one and as the ball went over the fence in left, it was bedlam. People chanted USA USA USA in bars across the country and the United States had their newest hero, one that all Nationals fans had worshipped for years.
1. Ohtani vs Trout
Jared Carrabis tweeted at one point something along the lines of “you cannot script this.” But let’s be honest, if baseball was scripted, it absolutely would’ve done it the way it played out. Shohei Ohtani has never made the MLB playoffs. Mike Trout has made it only once in 2014, where the Angels were eliminated in the ALDS. Before the tournament, people dreamed of these two going head-to-head in an elimination game. Not only did it happen, but it came to fruition in the 9th inning of a 3-2 ballgame with 2 outs and nobody on. It was one of the most captivating things I’ve ever seen in a baseball game as Ohtani painted at triple digits and Trout battled his Angels teammate to a full count. The hopes and dreams of two nations rested on the shoulders of these two living legends. It was a special moment and I couldn’t help but smile in awe as Shohei Ohtani struck out Mike Trout swinging on the payoff pitch to win the World Baseball Classic. It was an incredible baseball moment to witness.
There were many more moments that could’ve been mentioned, but there’s only so much time and only so many words of mine you’ll want to read. Luckily for us, the World Baseball Classic returns in just 3 short years in 2026.