Cardinals players witnessed the passing of the torch in the WBC final

World Baseball Classic Semifinals: Mexico v Japan
World Baseball Classic Semifinals: Mexico v Japan / Megan Briggs/GettyImages

The World Baseball Classic final between the United States and Japan featured a trio of St. Louis Cardinals players.

Lars Nootbaar had an RBI groundout. Nolan Arenado singled, walked, and started a double play from what is usually the shortstop position. Paul Goldschmidt whiffed twice and grounded into a double play of his own, accounting for five outs in his four plate appearances.

It wasn't a stellar game for Cardinals players, but for Nootbaar, it is an opportunity to celebrate a WBC championship, as Samurai Japan defeated Team U.S.A., 3-2, to clinch the title. In the process, one of the most anticipated showdowns in a long while unfolded to conclude the game.

Trea Turner led off the scoring with yet another home run, his fifth in the WBC, putting the Americans up 1-0 in the top of the second inning. Munetaka Murakami tied the score at 1-1 in the bottom of the frame with his own solo shot.

Later that same inning, Nootbaar produced his biggest moment of the game - and the biggest of any St. Louis player - by grounding out to first base with the bases loaded, scoring Kazuma Okamoto and putting Japan ahead, 2-1.

In the bottom of the fourth frame, Okamoto crossed the plate again, this time needing no help, as he launched a solo shot to left center to give the Japanese squad a 3-1 advantage. That lead held until the top of the eighth, when Kyle Schwarber launched a ball into the right field seats to bring the U.S. within a run, 3-2.

That score stood until the top of the ninth, when Shohei Ohtani took the mound for his first relief appearance since 2016. After walking Jeff McNeil, Ohtani induced a double-play groundout from Mookie Betts, leading to a stellar and dramatic final confrontation.

Because they've been teammates since Ohtani came to America, he and Mike Trout had never faced each other before, and the wait was worth it. Pumping 100 mph heat, Ohtani alternated balls and strikes for the first five pitches, leading to a full count. Trout swung through the sixth pitch, ending their battle, as the game's best player for the last several seasons struck out against the current greatest baseball player on earth.

Japan has now captured three WBC titles and remains the only team to win more than one championship. For Ohtani, Nootbaar, and their teammates, who ran the table with a 7-0 record, it was a hard-fought and well-earned victory.

Congratulations to Samurai Japan and their fans for once again being champions of the World Baseball Classic.