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Team USA vs. Japan in championship game


For baseball fans, there’s never really been this kind of drama this early in the spring. And now there’s only one game left.

The defending champion team from the United States meets two-time winner Japan tonight in Miami for the 2023 World Baseball Classic title.

It’s a matchup of two powerhouse squads. Team USA overwhelmed Cuba 14-2 in its semifinal on Sunday, while undefeated Japan pulled out a dramatic 6-5 walk-off victory over Mexico on Monday night.

A frenzied sold-out crowd will be on hand, hoping to see another classic matchup as Diamondbacks right-hander Merrill Kelly takes the mound for the U.S. and surprise starter Shota Imanaga gets the ball for Japan.

HOW TO WATCH: Time, TV channel, streaming info for WBC final

After homers in the last two games, shortstop Trea Turner moves up in the lineup for Team USA. Other lineup changes include J.T. Realmuto starting behind the plate, Kyle Schwarber at designated hitter and Cedric Mullins in left field.

USA starter Merrill Kelly gave up two earned runs in three innings against Colombia in the group stage.

Shohei Ohtani was standing at the entrance of Japan’s clubhouse late Monday night, surrounded by a handful of reporters, and was asked what everyone in the baseball world wants to know:

Will he pitch Tuesday night against USA in the World Baseball Classic final, even facing Los Angeles Angels teammate Mike Trout?

Ohtani smiled, was a bit coy, but revealed that if asked, if needed, he indeed will pitch, as well as be Japan’s starting DH.

“Mentally, I will be prepared to,’’ Ohtani said, “but obviously, I’ll be DHing, so it’s going to be hard to find that time to get hot in the bullpen.’’

Angels manager Phil Nevin said Tuesday afternoon that Ohtani was cleared to pitch one inning in the game.

– Bob Nightengale

Being back in the World Baseball Classic final is just where they thought they’d wind up all along.

Team USA laughed its way to a 14-2 victory over Cuba on Sunday night, and then turned the postgame into a comedy club routine.

Starter Adam Wainwright struggled in the opening inning, but St. Louis Cardinals teammate Paul Goldschmidt bailed him out with a two-run homer in the bottom of the first.

“He comes in after the home run,’’ Wainwright says, “and the first thing he does, he goes right to me and he says, ‘We got you.'”

Said Goldschmidt: “I mean, honestly, for me, that was one of my favorite home runs I’ve ever hit in my entire life.’’

Trea Turner, who had never batted ninth in a starting lineup until this tournament, has already set a USA record with four home runs and 10 RBI in the WBC.

“I kept saying every time he went deep,’’ USA manager Mark DeRosa said, “Who is the idiot that’s hitting him ninth? But that’s the way this lineup’s built.’’

– Bob Nightengale

Cuban bullpen catcher defects after team’s loss in WBC

Cuban bullpen catcher Ivan Prieto Gonzalez defected from Cuba following the national team’s loss to Team USA in the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic in Miami.

The news was first reported by the Miami Herald. The outlet said the Cuban team was scheduled to depart Miami International Airport Monday following the team’s loss at loanDepot Park Sunday night, but before the flight took off, Gonzalez wasn’t on the plane and stayed in Miami. 

Gonzalez played eight seasons in the Cuban National Series, the country’s top professional baseball league, with the Sabuesos de Holguín and Alazanes de Granma.

– Jordan Mendoza

Colorado Rockies closer Daniel Bard, after a difficult night sleeping, woke up Sunday feeling awful.

It got worse as the day went on.

Bard, the Team USA reliever who suddenly lost command of his pitches Saturday night, was the one whose errant fastball hit Houston Astros All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve in a 9-7 victory over Venezuela.

He hoped it would be nothing more than a sprained or badly bruised thumb, but Altuve was diagnosed Sunday morning with a broken thumb. He will undergo surgery this week and will be out eight to 10 weeks.

“I feel terrible,’’ Bard told USA TODAY Sports in the dugout before Sunday’s game against Cuba. “I was going sinker-in for a swing. I missed up and in. You just hate to see it. You saw my reaction.’’

Bard winced the moment the fastball hit Altuve, lowered his head, and then prayed he would be all right when he was on the ground in pain.

“You want to make some guys maybe uncomfortable in the box,” Bard said, “but not to the point of getting them hurt, ever.”

– Bob Nightengale

Six years after winning the 2007 World Baseball Classic title, Team USA has assembled its greatest group of Major League Baseball stars to date.

Managed by Mark DeRosa, the 30-man roster includes MVP winners in Mike Trout, Mookie Betts and Paul Goldschmidt (Clayton Kershaw had to drop out), and some of the game’s other finest players like Nolan Arenado, Trea Turner, Tim Anderson and Pete Alonso.

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