The United States has never won a World Baseball Classic championship, but it is one victory away from changing that following Tuesday's 2-1 win over Japan in the semifinals at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
Runs batted in from Andrew McCutchen and Adam Jones proved to be the difference, as the American pitching staff kept a Japan lineup that was previously undefeated in this year's WBC in check. As a result, the United States will face Puerto Rico in Wednesday's title game.
The U.S. Olympic team reacted to the triumph:
U.S. Olympic Team @TeamUSA
We're going to the FINAL! #ForGlory #WBC2017 🇺🇸 🎉 @USABaseball @WBCBaseball https://t.co/lz9Y0B47J12017-3-22 04:23:10
Regardless of what happens against Puerto Rico, the Americans have advanced further in the 2017 edition than they did in any of the previous three WBCs. As for Japan, it won the tournament in 2006 and 2009 but couldn't come through with a timely hit to advance past the United States on Tuesday.
It is a baseball cliche that good pitching beats good hitting, and that was on full display throughout the game amid a steady rain, as ESPN Stats & Info noted:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Japan entered the day having scored 46 runs in 6 games in the World Baseball Classic 1 run in the semifinals2017-3-22 04:34:56
The United States started Tanner Roark, who threw four shutout innings and allowed just two hits. Bob Nightengale of USA Today called it a "fabulous outing," and the Washington Nationals pitcher earned a flame emoji from his WBC team:
USA Baseball @USABaseball
Nate Jones takes over on the mound for Tanner Roark who had a 🔥 outing #ForGlory Roark's final line: 4 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 SO2017-3-22 02:44:04
Roark's counterpart, Japan's Tomoyuki Sugano, was even more effective, as he didn't allow an earned run and struck out six in six innings. However, he was the victim of unfortunate luck, as the Americans pushed across an unearned run after Ryosuke Kikuchi's error when McCutchen singled home Christian Yelich.
Kikuchi made up for his blemish in the bottom of the sixth when he drilled a game-tying solo homer off Nate Jones. Zachary D. Rymer of Bleacher Report thought back to Jones' homer-robbing catch from earlier in the tournament when watching the ball just make it over McCutchen's glove:
Zachary D. Rymer @zachrymer
Where have you gone, Adam Jones? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you. Woo woo woo. Boo Japan. https://t.co/29pLHQIIXM2017-3-22 03:13:32
Both teams turned to their formidable bullpens in the late innings, and Andrew Miller (0.2 innings, zero runs) and Sam Dyson (1.0 innings, zero runs) impressed. However, they couldn't match Kodai Senga's strikeout prowess, as Japan's first reliever punched out the first four batters he faced.
However, the Americans got to him when Brandon Crawford singled, advanced to third on Ian Kinsler's double and scored on Jones' groundout. Nobuhiro Matsuda bobbled Jones' grounder, eliminating the chance to throw Crawford out at home.
Japan had a chance to tie the game or take the lead when Mark Melancon allowed a single and a walk in the eighth, but Pat Neshek escaped the jam. However, Yoshitomo Tsutsugoh's flyout to end the inning looked to be gone for a second, as Cespedes Family BBQ described:
Cespedes Family BBQ @CespedesBBQ
I thought it was gone off the bat and then the split-second they showed McCutchen standing still I was like OMG HE HIT IT OUT OF THE STADIUM2017-3-22 04:07:47
There was no such drama in the ninth, as Luke Gregerson closed Japan in 1-2-3 fashion to clinch the win.
The United States can now turn its attention toward a rematch with a Puerto Rico squad that features plenty of MLB stars, including Francisco Lindor, Javier Baez, Carlos Correa and Yadier Molina. Puerto Rico beat the Americans 6-5 in Pool F play when the United States came up just short in the ninth with two runs and the game-tying one stranded on third.
The slate will be wiped clean for Wednesday's contest, as the two loaded rosters will battle for the WBC's ultimate prize.
Jones discussed his team's standing after the victory, per MLB Network:
MLB Network @MLBNetwork
"Unfinished business." @SimplyAJ10 joined @JonMorosi after @USABaseball advanced to the #WBC2017 Final. #UnitedWeGrind https://t.co/gjFtL6Uiti2017-3-22 04:38:09
McCutchen talked about his role, per USA Baseball: "Everybody's a super star on this team but somebody's gotta hit seventh, eighth so there are no egos on this team."
Gregerson commented on his save opportunity, per MLB Network PR: "I don't want to let these guys down. You have so many amazing players out there. For them to trust me with the ball in the end there, it's a little heart-wrenching at times. You just have to take a deep breath and do what you normally do."