A classic World Baseball Classic climaxed with a classic baseball moment.
In the ninth inning of the final game with the 2023 WBC championship on the line, two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani was on the mound trying to seal a 3-2 win for his native Japan against the Major Leagues’ best hitter in Mike Trout.
The fact that they’ve been Los Angeles Angels teammates for the past five seasons wasn’t lost on the millions of fans tuned to the game.
Trout struck out on a nasty 3-2 slider after a steady diet of 100 mph fastballs, handing Japan the WBC title and perfectly capping a thrilling tournament that captivated baseball fans all over the world. But the historic duel between arguably the game’s two top stars was just one of several amazing highlights.
Puerto Rico’s sort-of perfect game
Four pitchers combined to pitch eight perfect innings in Puerto Rico’s 10-0 win over Israel early in the tourney: José De León (10 strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings), followed by Yacksel Ríos, Edwin Díaz, and Duane Underwood Jr.
Unfortunately, the game didn’t officially count as a perfecto — the lopsided score invoked a mercy rule that ended the game after eight frames — but the result was perfectly fine for Puerto Rico and its fans.
Francisco Lindor’s ‘Little League’ homer
In a must-win game against the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico shortstop Francisco Lindor smacked a hard liner to center for a sure single — until D.R. centerfielder Julio Rodriguez, the reigning American League Rookie of the Year, let the ball skip past him all the way to the wall. A smiling Lindor turned on the jets and made it all the way home for a “Little League” style home run that helped cap a 5-2 victory for Puerto Rico.
Randy Arozarena hot dogs a great catch
The Cuban-born Rays outfielder, now a Mexican citizen, kept Mexico’s hopes alive against eventual WBC winner Japan by stealing a sure home run in the fifth inning of a tight game. Arozena made a perfectly timed leap at the left-field wall and came down with the ball — then struck a pose for good measure. It was a memorable moment in what proved to be a tough 6-5 loss for Mexico.
Luis Castillo hangs tough
If Arozarena’s catch was dramatic with a touch of flair, Panama’s Luis Castillo web gem at the wall was downright spectacular. Playing against Chines Taipei, the right fielder chased a long fly ball along the wall and caught it — then collided hard with centerfielder Jose Ramos, who was likewise tracking the drive. As both players writhed on the ground, the hitter circled the bases for an inside-the-park home run — or so everyone in the park believed. Castillo somehow held on to the ball for the out, and Panama held on for the win.
Fate — and a nasty changeup — changes a life
In a tournament where many of the 20 international teams were loaded with MLB stars, Duque Hebbert was just an unknown role player filling out a roster. Until he parlayed his brief appearance into a life-changing opportunity. The Nicaragua reliever, just 21 years old and with no Major League experience, took the ball in the ninth inning of a game against the powerhouse Dominican Republic team. Hebbert was given the daunting task of facing a Murderers’ Row of All-Stars: Juan Soto, Julio Rodriguez and Manny Machado. Oh yeah, and with Rafael Devers waiting in the wings if anyone got on base.
Undaunted, the kid proceeded to whiff Soto and Rodriguez on changeups before allowing a two-out double to Machado. No problem: Hebbert then struck out Devers on yet another changeup.
The performance proved to be more than an unforgettable moment for a young no-name. After the game, the Detroit Tigers offered him a contract.