Alden GonzalesESPN staff writer3 minutes to read
Miami – Turns out Munetaka Murakami was due.
Murakami, the third Japanese star to own the home run record and hit the Triple Crown, shone in his first three plate appearance in the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic Monday night. But he came when it mattered most, hitting a two-run double in the ninth inning that sent Japan into action, 6-5 victory over Mexico at a sold out LoanDepot Park.
Japan, who won the first World Baseball Classics in 2006 and 2009, will face defending champion Team USA in the final on Tuesday night.
Japan trailed Mexico early when 21-year-old Rocky Sasaki let off a tiebreaker on Luis Urías on a three-run homer in the fourth inning. The Japanese batters weren’t able to muster much offense against Patrick Sandoval, the Los Angeles Angels’ lefty who allowed only three baserunners in the first four innings. But Japan’s attack finally showed up belatedly.
Masataka Yoshida tied the score at 3 with a three-run homer off the concrete beam behind the right field foul pole in the seventh off JoJo Romero. Mexico took the lead again with RBI singles off Alex Verdugo and Isaac Paredes topping the eighth, but Japan added in another run in the bottom half and returned a full against Giovanni Gallegos in the ninth.
Shuhei Otani doubled into the right center hole, and showed a rare emotion as he reached second base and pointed to his dugout. Yoshida followed by drawing, and Murakami fired a 94-mile-per-hour fastball from middle to deep field, scoring the two runs that sent Japan back to the championship.
This was the ninth inning in World Baseball Classic history and the first to occur in the semifinals.
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