Did the best moment of this season already happen?
It’s hard to imagine baseball will have a more compelling at-bat over the next seven months than the showdown between Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout with two outs in the ninth inning of the championship game of the World Baseball Classic on Tuesday night in Miami.
With Japan leading Team USA by a run, Ohtani struck out Trout on six pitches, the final one a slider that started over the middle of the plate and darted to the outside corner. Ohtani flung his glove in joy when Trout swung and missed.
“Of course that was the ideal situation, but I don’t think anybody was really imagining it,” Japan manager Hideki Kuriyama said. “I think baseball is great and it kind of describes life.”
Trout was gracious afterward, taking questions about facing his Angels teammate for the first time in a game.
“Obviously it didn’t come out the way I wanted it to,” he said. “But as a baseball fan everybody wanted to see it.”
Trout said the WBC was one of the best experiences of his career and he plans to play again in 2026.
“I had a blast here,” he said. “Just how proud I am of myself that I represented the United States in the right way. We took a lot of pride . . . the group we had [in the clubhouse] was special.”
The WBC has always been, and always will be, an awkward fit into the baseball calendar. You can’t shut down the sport for two weeks in July and playing in November makes no sense coming off a full season. It’s hard to imagine any of the players from the World Series teams having the energy. So March it is, as much as executives and pitching coaches hate seeing their players leave camp to join their national teams.
But any inconvenience or fear of injury is worth the benefits to the game as a whole. The television ratings were astronomical in Asia and Latin America and teams from places such as Great Britain, the Czech Republic, Israel, and Italy received more attention than ever before.
Somewhere out there, a future first-round draft pick watched those games and decided baseball would be their sport.
The NBA has benefited from international competitions for decades, those tournaments generating fans and sources of talent. Baseball would be foolish not to seek those same advantages, because they do exist.
“Taiwan, China, and Korea, I think all the countries’ abilities are getting closer and closer,” Ohtani said after the championship game.
The final three games at loanDepot Park were attended by thousands of passionate fans of Cuba, Japan, and Mexico, and 2,000 media credentials were issued, including 500 representing outlets in Japan. The tournament also set records for merchandise sales.
A few other notes jotted down in Miami:
▪ Mexico manager (and Angels infield coach) Benji Gil should be on the short list for future managerial openings in the majors.
“Without a doubt. He did a great job with us,” said Alex Verdugo, who played for Mexico. “He handled everything perfectly and kept us ready. I’d love to see him get a chance.”
Gil also handled the public relations aspect with aplomb, answered questions in English and Spanish, and hit all the right notes.
“We lost, but we were not beaten. We were not beaten,” he said after a 6-5 walkoff loss against Japan in the semifinals. “They bested us. But for Mexico, it was a victory. It was a victory for Mexican baseball.
“These two weeks are going to attract so many young players in Mexico and also Mexicans that live abroad. For that reason, I believe that this was a victory, even when we didn’t win today.”
▪ Mookie Betts on playing with Trout: “It’s super fun. Just getting to know him in small ways and seeing what he does every day and what makes him great. I’ve known him from All-Star Games and playing against him, but we’ve gotten to be pretty good friends. Hopefully we can do this again.”
▪ The passion the teams and players such as Mexico’s Randy Arozarena showed during the games is something baseball needs more of during the regular season. The idea that celebrating is somehow disrespectful to the other team is antiquated. Baseball should follow the lead of the WBC teams in that regard.
“I talked to Mookie about it a few days ago. He said that’s something that teams should do during the regular season. Just enjoy it a little bit more,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said.
“The whole unwritten rules of baseball, throw them away. It’s not about showing up the opposition. It’s about enjoying what you’re doing. He really likes it. I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s going to happen in the regular season, but why not? Have fun with it.”
Verdugo agrees — to a point.
“I think we should express ourselves, but playing with that kind of emotion all season long would be hard,” he said. “In the pennant race, absolutely. But for 162 games, it would take a lot out of you.”
▪ The tournament is co-sponsored by MLB and the MLB Players Association. It was interesting to see rival executives Rob Manfred and Tony Clark side by side handing out the gold and silver medals after the final game.
Manfred confirmed the next WBC will be in 2026 and that the sides need to work on getting more of the best pitchers involved.
“It’s great the guys that we’ve had, but I think that I’d like to see pitching staffs that are of the same quality as our position players,” he said.
Team USA couldn’t persuade any of the 14 American pitchers who received at least one Cy Young vote to play. You have to think pitchers such as Justin Verlander, Max Fried, Dylan Cease, Alek Manoah, and Aaron Nola would have made a difference.
How to make that possible is something that will be discussed.
▪ There were four or five players on Team Japan who would be impact players in the majors right now.
My favorite was shortstop Sosuke Genda. The 30-year-old Seibu Lions star has five Golden Gloves in Japan and plays his position with such smooth actions. He has great hands and makes strong, accurate throws from every angle.
Genda played the last five games with a broken pinkie on his throwing hand and handled every play.
Pitcher Roki Sasaki will be the subject of a bidding war once he gets posted. The 21-year-old righthander throws 100-mile-per-hour fastballs with seemingly no more effort than his secondary pitches. The ball explodes out of his hand, although his command is not yet refined. That will come in time.
Yoshida faces new challenge as season starts
The bat-to-ball skills Masataka Yoshida showed in the WBC were impressive. He struck out once in 32 plate appearances and displayed a knack for driving in runs.
To be sure, some of the pitchers he faced weren’t of major league quality. But there was tremendous pressure on Japan to succeed and Yoshida helped carry the team.
“Just watching the tournament, with all due respect to everyone in that group, he’s been probably the MVP of the Japanese team,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “I’m not saying he’s the whole package but I can say he’s a good baseball player.”
Baseball writers from Japan believe Yoshida will need time to adjust to playing outdoors and playing on grass after spending his career in Japan’s domed ballparks.
Hideki Matsui hit .258 with a .669 OPS and three home runs in his first two months with the Yankees in 2003. He hit .305 with an .855 OPS and 17 home runs the rest of the way and mashed in the postseason, helping the Yankees reach the World Series.
A few other observations on the Red Sox:
▪ It’s been an ugly spring training for Tanner Houck. He has put 37 runners on base via hit (22), walk (10), or hit batter (5) over 17⅓ innings and allowed 16 earned runs.
Houck also has 21 strikeouts, so it’s not like his stuff has gone south.
“I have a few mechanical things to clean up,” he said. “I’m healthy, that’s the biggest thing. I’m not worried about statistics in spring training. I’ll be fine.”
▪ The Red Sox used Tommy Pham, Kiké Hernández, and Jarren Duran as the leadoff hitter for 127 games last season. Pham had a .305 on-base percentage, Hernández .275, and Duran .285.
It’s going to be another rotating cast this season, at least to start. Alex Verdugo and Triston Casas are the candidates against righthanders with Hernández and Christian Arroyo against lefthanders.
Hernández handled the job fairly well in 2021 (.254/.342/.457 in 118 games batting first) and perhaps he will settle into that spot again. But it remains strange the Sox are going into the season without an obvious choice.
▪ Former Sox players Ryan Lavarnway and Jed Lowrie announced their decisions to retire.
Lavarnway was a sixth-round pick out of Yale in 2008 who made it to the majors in 2011 and nearly rescued that team from its September collapse with two home runs in Game 161 while catchers Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek were injured and unable to play. Lavarnway also picked up a World Series ring in 2013.
In all, Lavarnway played only 165 games in the majors but persevered with 11 organizations. He plans to stay in a game in a capacity to be determined.
Lowrie was a supplemental first-round pick from Stanford in 2005, the same draft that yielded Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Buchholz. He played for the Sox from 2008-11 before being traded to Houston for closer Mark Melancon. His 14-year career included making the All-Star team in 2018.
Like Lavarnway, Lowrie plans to stay in the game. It’s not hard to imagine him working with MLB in some capacity, or working to bring an expansion team to his native Oregon. Portland has long been considered a good candidate for a team.
▪ According to Forbes, the Yankees are worth $7.1 billion, with the Dodgers ($4.8 billion) and Red Sox ($4.5 billion) rounding out the top three. The magazine also reported the Sox made a profit of $71.6 million last season.
Sox principal owner (and Globe owner) John Henry said in February that baseball’s economic system needs change. But it seems to be working pretty well for his team.
▪ Major League Baseball issued a memo to teams asking them not to reveal their Opening Day starter until after an MLB Network show aired Thursday. Most teams made their official announcement Friday. Cora skipped the line and said back on March 15 that Corey Kluber was his pick. The Orioles will pitch Kyle Gibson against the Sox.
D’Angelo Ortiz making his own way
There is nothing glamorous about junior college baseball.
A “crowd” of 17 people were on hand at first pitch when Miami Dade played at Florida Southwestern State in Fort Myers earlier this month. The umpires showed up late and the closest thing to a clubhouse was the porta potty behind the backstop. You get off the bus, play the game, and get back on the bus.
This is where D’Angelo Ortiz is chasing his dreams.
The 18-year-old son of Hall of Famer David Ortiz is a freshman infielder and designated hitter for Miami Dade. He went into the weekend hitting .346 with an .814 OPS through 31 games.
At 6 feet 1 inch, 190 pounds, Ortiz does not resemble his father athletically. He’s a righthanded hitter who makes consistent contact, rarely strikes out, and has only one home run.
He’s a savvy No. 2 hitter-type of player, somebody who makes his team better in different ways.
To add to his versatility, Ortiz will play outfield for Brewster in the Cape Cod League this summer.
“I’m trying to write my own story,” Ortiz said. “Hopefully I have a chance to get drafted after next season and we’ll see what happens. My dad had his career and nobody can be like him. I’m just trying to be myself and take advantage of my opportunities.”
Former Red Sox prospect Mauricio Dubón hasn’t hit well in spring training but is one of the players the Astros are considering at second base while Jose Altuve is on the injured list. David Hensley, a former 26th-round draft pick who made it to the majors last season, is the other . . . The Phillies are considering former Red Sox reliever Matt Strahm as a starter because of injuries to starters on the 40-man roster. Strahm hasn’t started regularly since 2019 and wasn’t all that good at it (3-7, 5.29 ERA in 16 games) but has always wanted to try again . . . MLB issued a few clarifications to the new rules, most of them geared to give pitchers and catchers extra time before starting the pitch clock on certain occasions. The league also said bat boys or bat girls must “quickly assist players and umpires to comply with the pace of game procedures.” In addition, they must meet with the visiting team prior to the start of the series to get their preferences. MLB plans to monitor their performance to ensure compliance. The bat boys, in almost all cases, are adults who work in the clubhouses for the home team and put on a uniform for games. Now they’ll be on the clock, too . . . Roger Clemens will be on the ESPN crew for the White Sox-Astros game on Opening Day. He’ll take the place of David Cone, who is contractually obligated to work the Yankees game that day for the YES Network. Clemens has not shied away from the game despite being denied induction to the Hall of Fame because of his ties to steroid use. He’s a regular visitor to Minute Maid Park and keeps up with pitchers around the game . . . For $249 — a mere $3.07 a game — you can purchase a season ticket for the Rays. The Ballpark Pass provides access to Tropicana Field’s standing-room areas but not a seat. Yes, there are usually thousands of empty seats at the Trop. But the Rays say security will be vigilant . . . Boston College will play its annual ALS Awareness Game at Fenway Park on May 19 at 7 p.m. against Notre Dame. The game has been played since 2012 when the late Pete Frates was diagnosed with ALS and all proceeds benefit his foundation. Tickets are $15 and can be obtained at redsox.com/alsgame . . . Happy birthday to Rob Refsnyder, who is 32. The Red Sox outfielder had an .881 OPS over 57 games last season, which led to a one-year, $1.2 million contract. It was his first guaranteed deal since making his major league debut in 2015.