NEW YORK– Two goliaths in Team USA and Japan are set to face off tonight Tuesday March 21st in the World Baseball Classic Championship at loanDepot Park – first pitch scheduled for 7:00 pm ET, broadcast on Fox Sports 1 (FS1).
Yes, you read that right… Two Goliaths. Once professional players began expressing their thoughts on participating in the 2023 WBC, Japan and USA were immediately deemed the two juggernauts.
And it’s clear as day, both teams proved everyone right. Shohei Ohtani and Japan head into Tuesday 6-0 while Trea Turner and Team USA stand 5-1. On an offensive front, Japan has scored six or more runs in each game played. The defending champions, Team USA, on a similar path, tallied six or more runs in five of their six games played.
Essentially, I’d consider Japan-USA a toss up. You look at Japan’s roster and it’s compartmentalized with an incredible mix of MLB and NPB superstars. Then, on Team USA’s front, the lineup is All-Star established and proven from top-to-bottom including a few potential Cooperstown Hall of Famers.
So, with all this talent comes the spectators and viewers tuning in around the world. Japan vs. Korea in Pool B play on Friday March 10th brought in a 44.4 TV rating in Japan: out-rating all sports competitions during the Tokyo Olympics. In the Quarterfinal game between Japan and Italy, 48% of households in Japan watched. Television numbers will be released in the next coming days on the WBC Semifinal game of Japan-Mexico, and I expect those to be even higher.
Tuesday night’s World Baseball Classic Championship between Japan and USA has the potential to be the most-viewed baseball game of all-time.
Japan’s center fielder of the St. Louis Cardinals, Lars Nootbar noted: “Anytime you get to play against a lineup like they have and a team that they have, it’s going to draw a crowd, but for it to be Team USA versus Japan and then, obviously, Trout versus Ohtani, I think that’s special.”
“It’s two countries that love baseball that are all going to be watching. So we’re looking forward to it. We’ve got a resilient bunch, so we just can’t wait for that opportunity.”
The opportunity comes Tuesday with Japan planning to go with starter Shota Imanaga. A surprising move to say the least, since Ohtani and Yu Darvish are available to pitch.
Both mentioned their availability following Japan’s WBC Semifinal victory, so, perhaps, we see either appear, in a relief situation.
Ohtani said: “I will definitely be prepared to pitch wherever, but before that I am going to have to hit and make sure I put some runs on the board before I pitch.”
Team USA is expected to start 34-year-old right-hander Merrill Kelly of the Arizona Diamondbacks. He previously pitched last Wednesday March 15th against Team Columbia – completing three innings with two runs allowed and a strikeout.
Torey Lovullo, who has managed the Diamondbacks since 2017 and Kelly, since he debuted in 2019, had much to say about USA’s WBC Championship game starter.
“Merrill is ready for that opportunity,” Lovullo said. “He always wants the ball in the biggest situation at the biggest time. The way I know him, he’s had a crazy journey to get to where he is. We’re proud of him, we’re proud of him no matter what happens.”
USA has combined to score 23 runs in their last two games played while their opponents (Venezuela and Cuba) paired together for nine runs. In that span, Team USA’s third batter in the lineup, Paul Goldschmidt and nine-hole hitter Trea Turner, have compiled eight hits (four HR) and 13 RBI.
“It’s just putting the at-bats together and it doesn’t matter when you come up, kind of deal,” Turner noted on where he hits in the dynamic lineup. “It’s just keep the line moving. I know I got really good guys behind me, Mookie (Betts), Mike (Trout), Paul, Nolan (Arenado). So try not to do too much and keep having some fun and when my name’s called, my name’s called.”
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Robert Rizzo is a journalist and co-editor of Latino Sports
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