Samurai Japan received a rapturous welcome home from around 1,200 fans at Narita airport near Tokyo on Thursday after capturing the country's third World Baseball Classic title.
Shohei Ohtani struck out his Los Angeles Angels teammate Mike Trout to seal a thrilling 3-2 win against the United States in Tuesday's final in Miami, replicating Japan's success from the 2006 and 2009 tournaments.
Players for Nippon Professional Baseball clubs arrived on a chartered flight, while four MLB players -- tournament MVP Ohtani, Yu Darvish, Masataka Yoshida and Lars Nootbaar -- rejoined their respective American clubs.
"We played difficult international games that could have gone either way, but every player fulfilled his role each time to grind out wins," skipper Hideki Kuriyama, who is set to step down from his role, said at a press conference.
"We had wonderful games and a wonderful team. I can only say thank you to them and the fans...We could feel the excitement building back in Japan (from Miami)."
Slugger Munetaka Murakami vowed to return to the tournament even stronger, having played a crucial role after bouncing back from a slow start. His batting struggles saw him drop from cleanup to fifth in the order, but he went on to deliver a walk-off double against Mexico in the semifinals and a solo homer in the final against the United States.
"The tournament has made me set the bar higher," said Murakami, who hit 56 home runs for the Yakult Swallows while winning the 2022 Triple Crown in Japan's Central League. "I want to play in the next tournament in three years' time, batting cleanup in every game."
Pitching star Roki Sasaki said starting the semifinal was a valuable experience.
"It was really fun having serious battles with major leaguers at that stadium in America and in that atmosphere," the Lotte Marines flame thrower said.
"I'll keep working hard to play in the tournament three years from now as a more mature player."
The team later met with Prime Minster Fumio Kishida at his office, where Kuriyama expressed his gratitude to the nation for its support.
Kishida told Kuriyama and the players that their achievements "gave courage and energy" to people across the country.
A baseball player in his high school days, Kishida threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Samurai Japan's WBC Pool B game against South Korea at Tokyo Dome on March 10.
Kishida is also an avid fan of NPB club the Hiroshima Carp, based in his home constituency in the western Japan city where he is scheduled to host a Group of Seven in-person summit in May.
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