MIAMI — Shohei Ohtani rarely shows emotion on the baseball field.
But when he roped a double to the right center field gap in the bottom of the ninth on Monday night, Ohtani swung his arms up, yelling at his Japan teammates in the dugout to get fired up.
Moments later, they all joined Ohtani in the middle of the diamond in a wild celebration that followed Munetaka Murakami’s two-run walk-off double, resulting in Japan’s 6-5 comeback win over Mexico in a World Baseball Classic semifinal.
Japan, which won the first two WBC’s in 2006 and 2009, advanced to its third WBC final and will face the United States on Tuesday night at 7 p.m.
Murakami’s double came after Masataka Yoshida walked to put runners on first and second. Japan went with the speedy Ukyo Shuto as a pinch runner. Shuto ran almost right behind Ohtani and across the plate after Murakami belted a 94-mph fastball from Mexico’s Giovanny Gallegos 400 feet deep and off the wall in center field.
The loss was a heartbreaker for Mexico, which had assumed an underdog role, winning Pool C and advancing to its first WBC semifinal.
Japan did not lead in the game until Murakami’s game-winner, but erased a 3-0 deficit in the bottom of the seventh inning on Yoshida’s three-run home run.
Mexico retook the lead in the top of the eighth on a double by Alex Verdugo, which scored Randy Arozarena, and added another on an Isaac Paredes single.
Japan cut the deficit to 5-4 in the eighth on a sacrifice fly by Hotaka Yamakawa.
On a night when many wanted to watch Japan’s 21-year-old pitching phenom Roki Sasaki, it was Mexico’s pitching starting with Pablo Sandoval which did not yield a run for the first six frames.
Sandoval struck out six over 4⅓ innings and gave up four hits and one walk. Jose Urquidy kept it going until the seventh when he gave up a two-out single to Kensuke Kondoh. Jojo Romero replaced Urquidy and proceeded to walk Ohtani and give up the tying homer to Yoshida.
Sasaki kept Mexico’s bats in check with a steady diet of 100-plus mph fastballs until the fourth inning when Luis Urias belted a three-run home run into the left field seats.
Arozarena stole a home run from Japan’s Kazuma Okamoto in the fifth inning and then just stood there stoically. He then made a great running catch to end the frame to take away another hit.
Japan left the bases loaded in the fifth and sixth innings against Urquidy.
Sasaki struck out three, but gave up five hits including Urias’ homer over four innings. Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who won back-to-back MVPs in Japan, pitched 3 ⅓ innings of relief, allowing two runs on three hits, two walks and struck out four.
Arozarena’s six doubles in this year’s tournament are tied for the most in a single WBC and his seven extra-base hits are tied for the second most.
Yoshida’s 13 RBI in this year’s tournament breaks the record previously set by the Netherlands’ Wladimir Balentien (12) in the 2017 WBC.