What elevates a home run from being merely an exciting baseball moment, to an iconic baseball moment? There are many factors involved, and these factors elevate certain homers in a way that doesn’t always seem to make purely rational sense. Carlton Fisk’s Game 6 homer in 1975 didn’t end the World Series, and it wasn’t even hit for the team that won the World Series. And yet, it is far more iconic than Joe Carter’s 1993 homer, which did both.
The fact is that iconic moments are born of a number of different dynamics, including the people involved, the stakes, and the aesthetics of the homer itself, amongst other factors. With respect to Fisk’s homer, it reached icon status not because it was more impactful than Carter’s (it wasn’t) but because it came against one of the most celebrated teams of post-war baseball, because it capped one of the most exciting single games ever played, and, most importantly, because it produced one of the most memorable aesthetic images in baseball history: Fisk waving the ball fair as he hopped down the first baseline.
There is A LOT to say about last night’s World Baseball Classic semifinal between Samurai Japan and Mexico. Entering the game, it seemed like Roki Sasaki would be the story. Sasaki is a 21-year-old phenom who possibly throws harder than any other starting pitcher on Earth. He made international news last season when he threw 17 consecutive perfect innings, getting removed after the 8th inning of what would have been back-to-back perfect games. And indeed, Sasaki was outstanding, allowing just 5 hits without walking a single Mexican hitter through 4 innings of work. At one point, he was drilled in the chest by a line drive; he shook it off and threw four straight pitches over 100 MPH to induce a double play and end the inning.
But then, it looked like Patrick Sandoval would be the story. Sandoval was, very quietly, one of the better starting pitchers in Major League Baseball last year, finishing 33rd in bWAR amongst all starters. And now here he was facing a team led by the world’s best player — a guy who just happens to be his regular season rotation mate, Shohei Ohtani. Sandoval was even better than Sasaki, working into the 5th inning and notching 6 strikeouts, one of which came against Ohtani in the first.
Then, after Luis Urias took Sasaki deep in heartbreaking fashion (heartbreaking for Japan, that is, considering that Urias only came to the plate because the two previous batters hit bleeders that somehow managed to find grass), Randy Arozarena took over. Samurai Japan was doing everything it could to get back in the game against the Mexican bullpen. But despite putting 8 runners on in the 4th, 5th, and 6th innings, Japan was unable to score, as Arozarena caught (and I’m going by memory here) about 37 would-be run-scoring line drives out in left field, including this already iconic home run robbery:
RANDY AROZARENA BRINGS ONE BACK THIS MAN IS ON ANOTHER LEVEL pic.twitter.com/0csVmzwaYE— Jared Carrabis (@Jared_Carrabis) March 21, 2023
Ohtani produced memorable moments in the game. Alex Verdugo shined with a go-ahead double in the 8th. And Munetaka Murakami — the single best hitter in Japan, who had been mired in an epic slump all tournament — walked it off with a swing that was one-part double in the gap, one-part exorcism.
But in terms of iconic moments from this game, I’m not sure anything will top what Masataka Yoshida of the Boston Red Sox did in the 7th inning:
Masataka Yoshida is all ours. pic.twitter.com/vjJsNVM36w— Jared Carrabis (@Jared_Carrabis) March 21, 2023
That was Yoshida’s 7th inning 3-run homer. It came on a changeup that darted towards his shins and it tied the game, setting off all the drama that soon would follow. And my God, how beautiful is that video clip?
This edition of the World Baseball Classic seems destined to go down in history as the one that finally cemented the WBC as one of the world’s great sporting competitions. The collection of talent in the tournament is undeniable (even with the embarrassing showing by America’s pitchers); it’s been filled with one viral moment after another; and it’s setting records both in attendance and TV viewership — the Japan-Italy quarterfinal was watched by around 60 million people worldwide, which is more people than have ever watched any World Series game. Last night’s game possibly topped that number, and tonight’s US-Japan final has the potential to not only top it again, but to subsequently hold that record for quite some time.
This tournament is going to be remembered, discussed, and dissected for years to come — and every time it is, we’re going to see Yoshida’s homer. It didn’t win the game, and it occurred in a tournament many American fans are still skeptical of, but it has all the elements necessary to elevate it in our collective baseball consciousness. It was explosive, it was unexpected (given the pitch, anyway), it came in a game that was filled with one memorable moment after another, and, of course, it was goddamn beautiful to watch.
Watch that clip again. Watch the way the crowd rises with the flight of the ball. Look at the way Yoshida, the first base coach, and the first base umpire all mirror each other as they track the ball down the line. See the way Mexico’s Austin Barnes tries in vain to will the ball foul. It’s baseball as Velazquez might have painted it (Diego, not Vince):
It wasn’t just a home run — it was a beautiful, improbable, electrifying home run. And it came in a game that, in the context of the future of international baseball, will have significant meaning beyond the box score. It’s the World Baseball Classic’s Carlton Fisk moment, and it’s going to be remembered for a long, long time.