Alton GonzalezESPN staff writer3 minutes of reading
MIAMI — Munedaka Murakami, it was because.
Murakami, the star Japanese third baseman who holds the nation’s home run record and is coming off a Triple Crown, struck out in his first of three plate appearances in Monday night’s World Baseball Classic semifinals. But he came at a crucial time, delivering a two-run double in the ninth inning that sent Japan into a frenzy. 6-5 walk-off win over Mexico at sold-out LoanDepot Park.
Japan, which won the first two World Baseball Classics in 2006 and 2009, will face defending champion USA in Tuesday night’s final.
Japan fell behind Mexico early in the fourth inning when 21-year-old Rookie Sasaki left a breakaway to hit Luis Urias for three runs. Japan’s hitters couldn’t muster much offense against Los Angeles Angels left-hander Patrick Sandoval, who allowed just three base runners through the first four innings. But eventually Japan’s attack came to life late.
Masataka Yoshida tied the score at 3 in the seventh with a three-run homer off the concrete beam past JoJo Romero’s right-field foul pole. Mexico regained the lead in the top on RBI singles by Alex Verdugo and Isaac Paredes, but Japan added another run in the bottom half and came back against Giovanni Gallegos in the ninth.
Shohei Ohtani led off with a double into the right-center gap, showing rare emotion as he reached second base and signaled toward his dugout. After Yoshida drew a walk, Murakami launched a 94 mph fastball up the middle to deep center field, scoring two runs and sending Japan back to the championship.
It was the ninth walk-off in the history of the World Baseball Classic and the first in the semifinals.