Even the utmost haters of the World Baseball Classic would have to admit the ending to the 2023 event was storybook.
The matchup the world was waiting for happened. And not only did it happen, but it also happened in the biggest moment possible. Japan vs USA, Shohei Ohtani vs Mike Trout. Los Angeles Angels teammates and arguably the two best players in the sport with four regular season MVPs between them going head to head.
We knew the WBC offered the chance to see Trout and Ohtani face off. But no one could have predicted it would come in the final at-bat of the tournament with a championship on the line.
If you believe in the “Sports Gods,” you’d have to assume they were there to help make this matchup happen. And if you listened to Chris “Mad Dog” Russo Wednesday morning on First Take, you’d have to assume he’s an atheist.
Russo wasn’t feeling the WBC drama. Hours after the seemingly perfect ending to the tournament, Russo went on First Take and took a blowtorch to the fanfare and headlines surrounding Ohtani vs Trout.
“Did you see the headlines today? ‘Epic At-Bat,’ ‘Incredible Moment.’ What?! Why?” Russo asked. “Because they’re teammates? I mean, Trout does nothing but strikeout. Trout struck out twice in the game!”
“Plus the fact that there was two outs, nobody on. The game was awful!” Russo ranted. “That game was a bad game, I was bored stiff! It was two outs, nobody on. It wasn’t like the bases were loaded, it wasn’t like he was the winning run at the plate, it wasn’t like he fouled off any pitches! He didn’t keep the at-bat alive by fouling off tough pitches! He swung and missed! They’re making this at-bat out to be the greatest at-bat in the history of Major League Baseball! It’s March 21st! Can we take it easy?!”
Russo left Stephen A. Smith to clean up the mess. Smith recognized how unique and dramatic the moment was Tuesday night, even though the bases weren’t loaded and Trout failed to touch the baseball. While lauding the moment, Smith, however, failed to right his previous wrong by declaring Ohtani the face of baseball once and for all.
Yes, for many diehard MLB fans who bleed their favorite team’s colors, the WBC is still a tournament of exhibition games. But Russo treated this at-bat like Ohtani was pitching to Trout during a Spring Training intrasquad game. The stadium was packed, the game garnered global attention and the sport’s two best players were facing off in the event’s biggest moment. The drama was real and it was spectacular, and even if you scoffed at the entire tournament, you have to recognize the final at-bat of the WBC was storybook.