“Impossible theater,” said Fox announcer Joe Davis of the surreal scene unfolding at Marlins Park, pitting Angels teammates Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani against each other in the most anticipated matchup of this year’s World Baseball Classic. “These are two of the greatest baseball players to ever live.”
It’s beyond tragic—and an indictment on how woefully mismanaged the Angels have been for the past decade—that Trout and Ohtani have just three postseason appearances between them and none since 2014, never playing in anything resembling a high-stakes environment until this tournament. But the stars finally aligned Tuesday night in Miami, with Ohtani and Trout meeting for the first time, swords drawn with each combatant lusting for an elusive world championship on the sport’s biggest stage.
Ohtani would win this round, clinching Japan’s third WBC title on a knee-buckling slider Trout never saw coming (set up by a blistering, 102-mph fastball on the previous pitch), but the real winner was all of us, experiencing, in real time, one of the great showdowns baseball has ever produced.
With the count full and Japan leading by a run with two outs in the ninth, it felt like a glitch in the matrix, a moment frozen in time, a chest-beating climax to a thrilling tournament that captured our imagination for the better part of three weeks. The World Baseball Classic’s merits have been hotly debated, with injuries and inconsistent participation both cited as potential obstacles to mainstream acceptance. But even if those criticisms are warranted, we can set aside our cynicism, at least for 24 hours, to appreciate the full gravity and scope of a monumental viewing event, a titanic battle of final bosses at the height of their powers.
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