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Japan pitcher Yu Darvish (centre) and team Japan celebrate after defeating the USA in the World Baseball Classic final on Tuesday. Image Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Miami: Japan defeated the United States 3-2 on Tuesday to win the World Baseball Classic for a record third time.

Home runs from Munetaka Murakami and Kazuma Okamoto helped put Japan ahead before superstar Shohei Ohtani closed out the win from the mound in the ninth inning.

It is Japan’s third victory in the baseball showpiece following wins in 2006 and 2009.

Early lead

The star-studded United States, defending champions after winning the last edition of the tournament in 2017, were left ruing their inability to get on top of Japan’s pitchers at Miami’s LoanDepot Park.

Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Trea Turner blasted the host nation into a 1-0 lead in the top of the second inning with a solo shot to left field.

But Japan hit back immediately with Murakami — the hero of Japan’s walkoff win over Mexico in Monday’s semi-final — launching a home run to right centrefield in the bottom of the second off US starter Merrill Kelly.

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Shohei Ohtani of Japan with the MVP after defeating Team USA in the World Baseball Classic Championship. Image Credit: AFP

Loading the bases

Kelly’s problems were only just beginning, with the Arizona right-hander giving up singles to Okamoto before walking Yuhei Nakamura to load the bases.

That prompted US skipper Mark DeRosa to pull Kelly off the mound, with Aaron Loup brought in to get out of the jam.

Loup managed to emerge from the situation relatively unscathed, with Japan picking up just one more run for a 2-1 lead after Lars Nootbaar grounded out to score Okamoto.

Japan extended their lead in the bottom of the fourth when Okamoto crushed a fly ball to left field off US reliever Kyle Freeland to make it 3-1.

Similar story

The Americans threatened to haul themselves back into contention in the fifth, but left Mookie Betts and Nolan Arenado stranded on base.

It was a similar story in the top of the seventh when Jeff McNeil took a leadoff walk before Betts singled to leave US runners on first and second with no outs.

Once again though the US were unable to cash in, with Mike Trout lining out to right fielder Kensuke Kondoh before a double-play ended the inning.

Japan manager Hideki Kuriyama turned to Yu Darvish to lock it down in the eighth.

Dream final

But after getting rid of Arenado the San Diego Padres pitcher was jolted by a monster home run from Kyle Schwarber, who launched a fly ball into the upper tiers to make it a one-run game.

Devin Williams went scoreless through the eighth inning, setting up a dream final inning with Ohtani pitching to close out the game.

The Los Angeles Angels two-way started nervously by walking McNeil but Betts grounded into a double play to leave Japan just one out from victory.

That left Ohtani needing to dispose of Angels teammate Mike Trout to clinch victory, and the US captain struck out swinging to end the game.