Japan continued its dominance at the World Baseball Classic with Wednesday’s win over Italy, advancing to next week’s semifinals in Miami, where the two-time champs will face the winner of Friday’s matchup between Mexico and Puerto Rico. The star, as usual, was Shohei Ohtani, who contributed five strikeouts over 4 2/3 innings, at one point clocking 102 mph, confirmed to be the fastest pitch he’s ever recorded.
It goes without saying that Ohtani is an unprecedented athlete, one of the few humans capable of reaching that impressive speed, never mind that he’s also among the best hitters in a tournament loaded with world-class sluggers (Juan Soto, Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, etc.). It’s clear this event means a great deal to Ohtani, giving Japan his all with every pitch. While you have to admire his commitment to winning, many on Twitter echoed concern for Ohtani’s long-term health, suggesting he’d be wise to pace himself, saving bullets for the regular season.
Ohtani has had Tommy John surgery before, employed exclusively as a designated hitter in 2019 before resuming pitching the following year. A similar injury would no doubt throw a wrench in his upcoming free agency, where Ohtani is expected to command north of $500 million. It would also cripple L.A.’s playoff chances, continuing the Angels’ recent run of irrelevance.
It should be noted the WBC has safety measures in place to keep pitchers from overexerting themselves, adhering to strict pitch counts (65 in the first round, 80 in the quarterfinals and 95 in the semis and championship game). Of course, that doesn’t prevent freak injuries like the one we saw Wednesday night when Edwin Diaz blew out his knee celebrating Puerto Rico’s win over the Dominican Republic, which will reportedly require season-ending surgery. Fear of accidents like these is why the NBA All-Star Game has devolved into a glorified layup line with players—likely at the urging of their employers—unwilling to risk injury in what amounts to a meaningless exhibition.
The World Baseball Classic, you could argue, only works because of the star power it attracts, though you can understand why major-league teams might feel differently. Armed with the benefit of hindsight, Mets fans are probably irate that Diaz put his country before his own team, though in reality the World Baseball Classic poses minimal risk to its participants, occurring over a span of three weeks once every four years.
The WBC is, in many ways, baseball in its purest form, eschewing MLB’s rampant commercialism for camaraderie and national pride. That’s something to be celebrated, though if you were an Angels fan, your heart would skip a beat too seeing Ohtani pump triple-digits for a team other than the one that pays his salary.
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