PEORIA, Ariz. — On an off day without a baseball game, what did most of the Mariners players and coaching staff do with their free evening?
Watch a baseball game.
With rain soaking the Phoenix valley on Tuesday, making golf uncomfortable if not impossible, and cool temps in the evening, there wasn't much else to do after dinner than watch a game on TV.
And this wasn't just any baseball game.
This was the championship game of the World Baseball Classic, featuring Samurai Japan vs. Team USA.
"That whole game was incredible," said Matt Brash, who watched the game with his family.
Brash had a vested interested since he played in the WBC for Canada.
For Matt Festa, he watched the game with the scouting reports of the Japanese hitters still fresh in memory. Festa helped Italy advance out of pool play and into the quarterfinals where they faced Japan, losing 9-3 at the Tokyo Dome.
"I was telling guys, 'This guy does this in this situation,'" Festa said. "Japan's lineup is no joke."
In the hours leading up to the title game at loanDepot Park in Miami, there was much speculation and hopeful anticipation over the possibility of Shohei Ohtani facing Mike Trout in a late-game situation.
Limited to being a reliever because of how much he'd already thrown in the tournament, for Ohtani to face his teammate, it would likely have to come in a late-inning, high-leverage situation.
The baseball gods made it so.
With the U.S. trailing 3-2 going into the top of the ninth, Ohtani came in to secure the victory with Trout scheduled to hit.
"Those that were really in tune with it, you are starting to count the outs to see if Trout had an opportunity to hit," Haggerty said. "You see [Yu] Darvish go down to the bullpen and you see Ohtani go down there. When Kyle Schwarber hits the homer off Darvish in the eighth, you know Trout is going to get one more at-bat and it all comes to fruition. Two of the best players in baseball going against each other."
Ohtani issued a leadoff walk to Jeff McNeil on a pitch just out of the strike zone. He erased the runner almost immediately, getting Mookie Betts to ground into an easy double play.
It brought Trout to the plate as the Team USA's last hope to tie the game.
"It had to happen," Cooper Hummel said. "I was so locked in."
The matchup everyone wanted was happening with the game on the line.
"I can't believe it actually happened," Festa said. "It was almost like it was scripted. It was pretty cool."
Ohtani threw a first-pitch slider just below the zone that Trout took for a ball. Undaunted and unintimidated, Ohtani went right at his teammate, unleashing a 100-mph fastball right down the middle. It was a challenge pitch that Trout swung through.
"As he was going to the plate, I thought Trout might get him," manager Scott Servais said. "But after two pitches, I knew Ohtani was going to get him."
Ohtani stayed with the heater. He fired another fastball that had a cutter action, riding off the outside corner of the plate for a 100-mph ball.
"He was throwing so hard that he was cutting fastballs at 100 mph," Festa said. "I've never seen his fastball cut like that."
Most of the players felt it was the adrenaline of the moment that made Ohtani's fastball cut.
He evened the count with Trout at 2-2, firing another four-seam fastball right down the middle of the plate again. Trout swung through it like the first strike.
"He went right at him," Chris Flexen said. "Shohei's 100 is a little different than my 91 mph. He had the confidence to challenge him right away."
Ohtani tried to overpower Trout with a fastball but pulled it out of the zone at 102 mph.
It meant a payoff pitch on a full count.
"I thought he was going to throw another heater and maybe elevate it," Festa said.
Instead of trying to blow Trout away with a fastball, Ohtani snapped off a near-perfect slider that started in the middle of the plate and darted away just off it.
"It was a perfect pitch," Hummel said. "It was just right off the K-zone. A perfect spot with a perfect starting point and perfect movement. I've got nothing but positive things to say about that."
A dream matchup that decided the championship.
It also produced a rare result a plate appearance for Trout where he whiffed on three pitches for a strikeout.
Codify Baseball, a research company that specialize in pitching game plans, tweeted out a stat that was verified by other outlets.
In Trout's 6,174 career plate appearances in the big leagues, there have been only 24 occasions where he swung and missed for all three strikes in a strikeout. In most of his strikeouts, he will take a called strike or at least foul off a pitch. But being retired by three whiffs in one plate appearances just doesn't happen.
"I saw that stat today and I said, 'Hey, I'm one of those guys,'" Festa said. "It was in 2019 when I had kind of just figured out the sweeper [slider], and it was actually my last outing before I got sent down to Tacoma. It kind of all clicked in that outing. And then I went down to Triple-A and got hurt."
Festa came in to pitch in a game where the Mariners were losing, 8-1. He struck out Albert Pujols and Brian Goodwin, allowed a solo homer to Dustin Garneau, and struck out Luis Rengifo in the eighth inning.
In the ninth inning, he struck out David Fletcher to bring Trout to the plate. Festa struck him out on three straight pitches.
"I went first-pitch slider," Festa said. "Then I went fastball up and then slider again."
Video verifies Festa's memory. Trout seemed fooled on the first-pitch slider, swinging over it. He was late on the fastball and then waved at the slider.
As for the next WBC, Festa hopes to play again at age 33. Haggerty, who was supposed to play for Italy as well, plans to play in three years. Concern over a nasty groin strain he suffered at the end of last season was the reason he opted out. He got up at 4 a.m. to watch Italy play on multiple occasions.
"I definitely had a large case of FOMO [fear of missing out]," he said. "But I had to take care of business here with the Mariners."