Featuring two of the sport's biggest stars on opposing national teams, the final at-bat of this year's World Baseball Classic delivered the dream confrontation between Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani that fans had longed for.
Ohtani, who started as Japan's designated hitter, took the mound to protect a 3-2 ninth-inning lead over the defending champion United States on Tuesday. And with two outs, the American League's 2021 MVP faced his Los Angeles Angels teammate, three-time MVP Trout, and struck him out.
In the build-up to that instant, Japan ran out one reliever after another to protect a two-run lead. As the innings ticked away, the possibility of the Americans having to come from behind against Ohtani was becoming more and more likely.
"My mind was in one spot," U.S. manager Mark DeRosa said. "I was, like, 'I wish we had a 7-2 lead and he wasn't pitching.'"
But Ohtani did take the mound and walked the first batter he faced in the ninth. With a one-run lead, he was due to face three of the game's biggest stars, Mookie Betts, Trout and 2022 National League MVP Paul Goldschmidt, with a runner on and no outs.
"You know what blows me away on this stage, is that it seems like no moment's too big for him," DeRosa said. "He did not seem like he was rattled by walking Jeff McNeil on a close pitch...not rattled that...three MVPs were coming up to bat."
But after Betts grounded into a double play, it was Trout's turn to shoulder the load against his Angels teammate.
"I saw him take a big deep breath to try and control his emotions," DeRosa said. "I can't even imagine being in that moment, the two best players on the planet locking horns as teammates in that spot."
Trout said he made eye contact with Ohtani before the at-bat.
"I looked at him," Trout said. "He's a competitor. That's why he's the best. He likes to compete."