Red Sox outfielder Masataka Yoshida makes WBC history
By Sean Penney
The signing of Masataka Yoshida was met with plenty of skepticism. The Boston Red Sox were criticized for overpaying based on how the market valued him, and there were concerns about how his production from professional baseball in Japan would translate to Major League Baseball. Anyone who has watched Yoshida in the World Baseball Classic should be feeling far more optimistic about the upside he brings to Boston.
Yoshida has dominated the tournament, hitting .474/.571/.842. He's anchoring a powerhouse lineup, arguably outproducing his more famous teammate, Shohei Ohtani.
Masataka Yoshida's WBC performance should excite Red Sox fans
As great as Yoshida has been throughout the WBC, he saved his best performance for the Semifinal game against Mexico. He collected three hits in the game, spraying the ball around to all fields. His third hit of the game would end up being one of the most clutch plate appearances of the tournament.
Mexico held Japan's lineup at bay while clinging to a 3-0 lead until Yoshida shifted the momentum in the seventh inning. With two on and two out, Yoshida smacked a changeup that was diving on the inside of the plate. The 366-foot home run down the right-field line tied the game.
It was Yoshida's second home run in this WBC. The three RBI that he tallied increased his total to 13, setting a record for the most RBI in a single WBC, per MLB.com's Sarah Langs. Wladimir Balentien set the previous record with 12 in 2017.
Yoshida tied the game in the seventh and would play a role in ending it two innings later. Mexico rallied back to reclaim the lead in the eighth inning, setting up a dramatic finish. After Ohtani led off the bottom of the ninth with a double, Yoshida drew a walk on five pitches. Munetaka Murakami, the Japanese Triple Crown winner who had been in a 4-for-21 slump during this WBC, scorched a double off the wall in deep center field to drive in the winning runs.
Yoshida had been replaced with a pinch-runner, so while he wasn't the one who crossed the plate, his patience in a tense spot put the winning run on base to allow Japan to walk off with a 6-5 victory.
Japan will advance to the Finals on Tuesday against the United States, who defeated Cuba in the Semifinals.
Yoshida is proving his bat can help the Red Sox lineup
The Red Sox viewed Yoshida as a potential solution for the leadoff spot in their lineup due to his plate discipline and strong contact rate giving him a reputation as a hitter with a knack for getting on base. The WBC has shown us that he's a capable middle-of-the-order bat with more power than advertised. If he can hit in the cleanup spot for Japan while leading the WBC in RBI, he's clearly a capable enough run producer to fill that role in Boston.
Red Sox manager Alex Cora would prefer to keep Rafael Devers in the No. 2 spot. Yoshida proving that he can be a cleanup hitter would help Cora construct a lineup that splits up the pair of left-handed hitters near the top of the order.
Concerns about Yoshida's ability to handle major league pitching also appear to have been overblown. Not that Mexico was sending Cy Young candidates to the mound, but they have major league-caliber pitching. Yoshida's home run came against JoJo Romero, who has 40 relief appearances over the last three years at the major league level. He's also a lefty, proving that Yoshida's left-handed bat can still produce without the platoon advantage. Yoshida also collected a pair of hits against Mexico's starter, Patrick Sandoval, another lefty who had an outstanding season in the Los Angeles Angeles rotation in 2022.
Yoshida has already made history in this WBC. If he wants to extend his RBI record, he'll need to do so against Team USA. The matchup will leave many Red Sox fans torn, but at least it will give us another opportunity to see Yoshida face MLB-caliber opponents.