At his March 2019 retirement press conference, Ichiro Suzuki was blunt about his expectations for Shohei Ohtani, saying, "He has to become the world's No. 1 baseball player."
Four years later, the Los Angeles Angels two-way star has all but secured that mantle, further underlining his claim by helping Japan win the World Baseball Classic with a 3-2 victory over the United States in Tuesday's final in Miami.
"It's unrealistic for someone to win the Cy Young Award one season and a home run title the next...but Shohei makes us imagine he might do that," Suzuki said back in 2019.
After displaying an all-around performance of which no other player is capable, Ohtani was also named the MVP of the 2023 WBC.
He won both of his starts on the mound, closed out the ninth inning of the final and hit .435 (10-for-23) with a home run and eight RBIs.
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Ohtani even reached on a bunt single against Italy, doubled to spark a ninth-inning comeback against Mexico in the semifinals and wrapped up the tournament by striking out Team USA captain and Angels teammate Mike Trout in a dream matchup.
"Without doubt, it was the best moment of my life," Ohtani said during a press conference after the WBC final.
"But that doesn't mean I have achieved my goal (of becoming the world's No. 1 player). This is just one passing point," he said.
"I'll continue to work harder, and first prepare for the upcoming season. I want to reach the postseason and ultimately win the World Series."
The Angels have not been to the playoffs during Ohtani's five seasons.
Meanwhile, Ohtani is No. 1 in MLB Network's "Top 100 Players Right Now" for the second consecutive year, above second-ranked Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees and third-ranked Trout ahead of the 2023 season.
"We showed Japan's baseball can win on the world stage," Ohtani said. "Japan's best pitchers got together, everyone got his job done without complaining, even when some of our starting pitchers were told to serve as middle relievers."
Asked to comment on the next WBC in 2026, Ohtani said, "Yes, I want to play. But I'll have to be playing at a high enough level to take part, so I'll do my utmost every year."
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