Shohei Ohtani made his presence felt when he made the first batter in Japan’s 9-3 win over Italy in Thursday’s World Baseball Classic quarterfinals, but that wasn’t his most exciting strikeout of the performance.
That’s part of his strikeout from Vinnie Pasquantino in the second inning, which came on his 102-mile fastball. That pitch was the fastest he’s thrown since signing with the Angels in 2018. His fastest pitch to date was 101.4 miles per hour, which he threw against the Houston Astros on September 10, 2022. Ohtani had previously thrown a 102.5 mph fastball while still playing for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters in Nippon Professional Baseball.
But Ohtani’s lead faltered in the fifth inning after hitting two batters and giving up two hits and two earned runs, prompting Samurai Japan manager Hideki Kuriyama to pull him out of his outing before he was out of the inning could come out.
Although he remained in the game as the designated hitter, Ohtani’s final line to his start also included five strikeouts, four hits, a walk and 71 pitches thrown in 4 2/3 innings. At the plate, Ohtani went 1 for 4 with two runs scored and a walk and a knockout once. Ohtani hits .438 (7 for 16) with a home run, three doubles and eight RBIs along with a 2.08 ERA, 10 strikeouts and a walk on the mound while winning his two starts in the WBC. Ohtani would be available on four rest days to appear in a possible final in Miami on Tuesday.
“When we see Shohei play, not only the players, but also the Japanese baseball fans, the whole nation feels something special,” Kuriyama told reporters after the game, adding, “At such moments, I feel so Ohtani. This is Shhei. This is Shhei. If he plays a must-win game like tonight, we’ll see who Shohei is.”
For Japan, it is the fifth time the nation has reached the semifinals of the WBC and the only team to make it to the semifinals of every edition of the tournament. Japan, which beat their opponents 47-11 in five games at this year’s WBC, won the tournament in 2006 and 2009 but lost in the semifinals to Puerto Rico in 2013 and the United States in 2017.
Japan meet winners of Puerto Rico and Mexico, which plays on Friday, in a semifinal match in Miami on Monday.
Ohtani, who hadn’t thrown a single fastball below 98mph, mesmerized West Coast Angels fans when he dished out a 100mph sinker for a ball against teammate David Fletcher – an at-bat in the top of the third that ended with the departure of the older Fletcher brother.
And Ohtani was pleasantly surprised when he scored his first goal of the game, a single, after ending in the bottom third of the third. Japan took a 4-0 lead in that inning when Joe LaSorsa played for Italy. Kensuke Kondoh, who reached on the go, met Masataka Yoshida’s groundout. Kazuma Okamoto hit a triple home run and drove in Ohtani and Munetaka Murakami, who also had a walk.
Italy have pushed back to the top of fifth. After pulling Vito Friscia back with a groundout, Ohtani hit his next hitter, Ben DeLuzio, in the back. His next matchup with his Angels teammate resulted in Fletcher throwing a ball through a gap to right field for a single.
Ohtani hit a second hitter, Nicky Lopez, to load the bases with a remaining out for David’s younger brother Dominic – who got a single from Ohtani in the first inning. And Dominic Fletcher scored another single from Ohtani to drive in Italy’s first two heats of the game. (Dominic Fletcher was also responsible for Italy’s other run when he homered Yu Darvish in the eighth inning. Darvish put on two innings of relief and allowed two hits, including the home run.)
At this point, Japan already had a Kruger warming in their bullpen. Following Dominic’s RBI hit, Kuriyama came out to replace Ohtani with Hiromi Itoh on the mound.
“I struggled a bit in the fourth and fifth innings, but by then I had a good rhythm and served well I think,” Ohtani told reporters.
The momentum was short-lived for Italy, whose deficit widened again as Japan took a 7-2 lead in the last quarter of round five. Italy pitcher Andre Pallante went with Ohtani, dropping Yoshida before being replaced by Vinny Nittoli, who dropped back-to-back doubles to Murakami and Okamoto.
Italy, managed by Hall of Famer and former Dodger Mike Piazza, advanced through the first round for the first time since 2013.
“You have to be exceptional against a very good team,” said Piazza. “And obviously we weren’t tonight. We didn’t throw the ball well tonight. We needed our pitchers to make a very good game.”
Source : www.latimes.com