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Shohei Ohtani hits his first home run of 2023 WBC in Japan win over Australia

Japan's Shohei Ohtani hits a home run as Australia's Robert Perkins watches.
Japan’s Shohei Ohtani hits a three-run home run as Australia’s Robert Perkins, right, watches during their Pool B game at the World Baseball Classic at the Tokyo Dome on Sunday in Tokyo.
(Eugene Hoshiko / Associated Press)
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It seemed like all of Japan was waiting for this exact moment. Fans had been showing up early to the Tokyo Dome just to see his batting practice big hits. And with a casual, simple swing of his bat, Shohei Ohtani delivered.

In the first inning of what would be a Samurai Japan 7-1 rout of Australia, Ohtani launched a 70 mph curveball into the depths of the right field crowd of the Tokyo Dome.

Actually, the ball traveled so far that before watching the slowed down video of where it actually landed, it appeared to hit his face (well, the giant billboard of his face along the back wall of the dome).

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He barely looked like he exerted any energy at all, delivering on an off-speed pitch that just the game before seemed to confound him. Not this time, though, and the pitch allowed Ohtani to hit his first home run of this World Baseball Classic.

“That was a good home run,” Ohtani told reporters in Japan. “Hitting a home run at the WBC has been a dream of mine since I was a child. I wanted to hit one soon. It was my first quality at-bat in a while.”

Back in the crowd, the home run ball was being shared. The woman who caught it, Yuma Akatsu, passed the ball to those around her, so that others could take a picture holding a piece of history if only for a moment.

“It was a great experience,” Akatsu told MLB.com. “I’m really happy that I was able to share that experience with everyone else around.

“It’s a true honor to be able to catch it and it feels like I’ve used all my life’s worth of luck,” she joked. Akatsu did not keep the home run ball, relinquishing it to Japanese baseball officials who asked for it.

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The cheers began to reverberate over the broadcast before he even let go of his bat and started his trot around the bases after his three-run home run. Just the third at-bat of the entire game, the third batter Australia starter Will Sherriff faced, Ohtani produced Japan’s first runs.

Japan already clinched a spot in the quarterfinals with their win over the Czech Republic and have dominated their pool through the opening stage of the tournament.

They will play Italy, who beat the Netherlands to secure their spot as the runner up in Pool A. So Angels infielder David Fletcher, who is playing for Italy, will meet Ohtani in the quarterfinals.

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