Round Two World Baseball Classic action continues…
Korea vs. Mexico
In Sunday’s very late (10:00 pm Central) game, Korea defeated Mexico using a surprising weapon: the long ball. The three solo shots were surprising both because the game took place in the pitcher-friendly spacious confines of Petco Park in San Diego and because Korea is not know for their power.
Korea also used small ball, with two sacrifices and three stolen bases. Mexico seemed unable to get their offense going against the fine Korea pitching. Korea won 8-2.
In this World Baseball Classic, there are men playing for jobs. Reportedly, Ivan Rodriguez is headed to Houston. All are playing for pride and country. The Koreans are playing for something more.
In Korea, the government requires mandatory military service from all men that must be completed by the age of 30. However, military exemption has sometimes been granted to Olympians. The Korean government has not promised military exemption to the members of the 2009 Korean roster, but if Korea brings home the championship, such an exemption is likely.
Shin-Soo Choo, a 27-year-old prospect in the Cleveland Indians organization, has not yet completed his military service. Without the exemption, he will be forced to go back to Korea and spend a couple years in the military, and then try to resume his baseball career. The Cleveland Indians, with a significant investment in Choo, were probably the only major league club that said to a player, “Yes, please, go play in the WBC” in the hopes an exemption would be granted.
Venezuela vs. Puerto Rico
Monday night, these two Caribbean rivals met in Miami. The crowd was large, loud and rowdy. Forget “thundersticks”, these fans bring everything from drums and tambourines to pots and pans. One even had a stainless steel dog bowl that she was beating on with a spoon. While the American public seems rather blasé about the WBC, there is no doubt that other countries are taking this very seriously.
I so wishing I was at this game. I have a game bag I pack with all my essentials: camera, score sheet on a clipboard, pencils, sharpies, umbrella, tickets, cell phone, hot dog money, XM radio, and a jacket. I love the idea of slipping in my tambourine or even my spare dog bowl into my game bag.
Perhaps, there is something contagious about the crowd because I was riveted to the TV, feeling the weight of importance on every single pitch. And, pitching was the story of this game.
Puerto Rico’s Ian Snell was great, but a walk, a stolen base and a single got Venezuela on the board in the third inning. Amazingly, that would be all Venezuela would need, as their pitching staff, led by Felix Hernandez, shut down the Puerto Rican offensive machine.
Venezuela‘s Ramon Hernandez added a solo home run in the seventh inning that was debated for about ten minutes before being ruled a home run. That has to be the longest home run trot in history! At first, it ruled a triple. The umpires debated on the field, then disappeared into the tunnel to view the instant replay. The replays on TV clearly showed it to be a home run. Yet, we waited and waited. Finally, the umpires appeared and declared it a home run. As it turns out, the replay equipment was not working, so after a debate among themselves, they called it a home run.
Venezuela‘s win ensures them a spot in the finals, while Puerto Rico and USA will battle for the other spot. In the rematch between the USA and Puerto Rico, we will find out what Team USA is made of. Can they rebound from their drumming by Puerto Rico in the first round?
Cuba vs. Mexico
Another 10:00 pm game at Petco Park. These are killing me. Well, actually, this one killed Mexico, as it was an elimination game.
Cuba prevailed 7-4 in this match-up. Mexico‘s success or lack can largely be judged by how first baseman Adrian Gonzalez hits. In his home park, Gonzalez only got on with a walk. Not good for Mexico. Mexico’s Cantu and Presichi both contributed solo homers, but in the end Cuba put up seven runs on eleven hits.
With the embargo against Cuba, you may wonder how do the Cubans get to play on American soil? They agree to donate any winnings to charity. These are lowest paid players in this classic, and they are only allowed to play for national pride, not prize money. Am I the only one that thinks the foreign policy against Cuba is outdated? Can we please be the “bigger” country and kiss and make up with our neighbor?
Mexico goes home. Mexican left-handed reliever, Dennys Reyes, will head to Cardinals camp in Florida, where I hope Dave Duncan can whip him into game form. In an elimination game on the 18th, Cuba will go on to face the loser of the St. Patrick’s Day game between Japan and Korea
Round two action in the World Baseball Classic action continued today. One of the things I love about baseball is that it is not a short, tall, big, small, strong or fast man’s game. It is a game where any body type can find their place. That fact was highlighted in today’s WBC action. Great big Adam Dunn, jacking a huge home run. Wiry Ichiro Suzuki getting on base again and again. A pitching match-up between Dice-K and a long, tall Cuban. The World Baseball Classic is a reflection of all the ways that baseball is played.
Here are recaps for the first two games. Game three between Korea and Mexico did not start until 10:00 pm my time. That recap will have to wait until tomorrow.
Cuba vs. Japan
This game was a rematch of the 2006 Championship game. The outcome was the same.
Japanese pitching was led by Daisuke Matsuzaka, who dominated the normally strong Cuban hitters. Japan did what they do best: manufactured runs with a bunch of singles and one double.
I do not know who said it first, but the statement of “if you watch a baseball game, you will always see something you have never seen before” was true today.
Cuban pitcher, Aroldis Chapman, walked batter number one, then picked him off at first. He walked batter number two, threw over to first and caught him stealing in a run down. Finally. the third batter was caught looking for a three up, three down inning.
During one at bat, two foul pop-ups were mishandled. One by Ichiro Suzuki in right field, and one by the catcher, Kenji Johjima (the sun was tough). Both were charged with an error, again IN THE SAME AT BAT. The Cuban batter finally struck out looking.
Cuba never got anything going in this game, while Japan looked great winning 6-0. Even so, I want to recruit some of those Cuban players. When will we ever make up with our next door neighbor? I know most Americans would like to export our goods to the island, while importing Cuban cigars. I just want Cuban to once again be the getaway it was in the days of Hemingway, and I want to import their baseball players.
USA vs. Kingdom of the Netherlands
Perhaps, Team USA bonded through adversity. In the game against Puerto Rico, Team USA seemed flat and disjointed, while Puerto Rico played with fire and unity. Tonight, Team USA looked like a team.
Brian Roberts came in to replace injured Dustin Pedroia and had a big game with a single, double and triple. Injured, Chipper Jones, who has gone 0 for 10, also exited with a sore oblique. This opened up the potential to get both Jeter and Rollins in the lineup at the same time.
There were two fabulous defensive plays by the Netherlands. Catcher, Kenley Jansen threw out Brian Roberts trying to steal 2nd, and he did it FROM HIS KNEES. Somebody forgot to warn Roberts about Jansen’s arm. I did not double check, but I do not think he has missed a stealer, yet. The Dodgers have talked about converting Jansen to a pitcher because he is having trouble hitting, but I hope he finds his bat because I love watching him behind the plate.
Also, the Netherlands, first baseman Randall Simon, made a diving stop and threw FROM HIS BACK to get the force at the plate.
Jimmy Rollins for Team USA also had a fabulous diving stop that he shuttled FROM HIS BELLY to second base, where Roberts turned it for a double play.
Team USA was wining 8-1 in the seventh, when somebody set off a few fireworks. Netherlands left-fielder, Bryan Engelhardt, hit a solo home run–the team’s first for the WBC. Team USA pitcher, Matt Lindstrom, seemed to think that Engelhardt admired the shot a little too long, because threw at hip level behind the next batter. The Netherlands team took offense to this and yelled at Lindstrom from the top dugout step. Both teams were warned.
Engelhardt might have watched the shot a second too long, but throwing at the next batter, when you are winning 8-2, is ridiculous. But, what goes around, comes around. Lindstrom gave up another run and left the game with an injury.
Under the category of something no one has seen before, catcher Brian McCann came in to pinch hit in the ninth for Ryan Braun and remained in the game in the OUTFIELD. Amazingly, no ball found him. Ryan Braun exited the game with what sounds like another oblique injury.
This ends the Netherlands Cinderella run, but they have much to be proud of. They made it to the second round. They have never been mercy ruled. Even, the USA can not say that.
The USA team had much to be proud of tonight, as well. They seemed to come together in the way they need to in order to contend in this tournament. USA now waits to face the loser of tomorrow’s game between Venezuela and Puerto Rico.
I have good news and bad news. Let us start with the good news.
The Cardinals played an exciting game yesterday in Jupiter, FL against the Boston Red Sox. The good news is Chris Carpenter pitched four scoreless innings. He is pitching strong and healthy. After his injuries, it is great to see him back to 2006 form, because we all know how 2006 went down.
In other good news, Josh Kinney came in a pitched a perfect ninth with two strikeouts. He picked up the win when Joe Mather hit a 2-run walk-off homer. Cardinals win 4-2.
Bad News from the World Baseball Classic
This is not the bad news: The World Baseball Classic has taken over my life. I loved the marathon of games last weekend. Baseball from before the crack of dawn in to late in the night is pretty cool. During the week, the games overlapped and I mastered the art of watching two games at once. However, last night, I did enjoy the fact that there was only one game to focus on, and I am going to enjoy the off day today. But, I will be anxious for the games to start again on Saturday.
In the one WBC game last night, Cuba faced Mexico. Although Cuba had pulled ahead 7-4, it was a game, until the 7th. The announcer might have said: “Now pitching for Mexico, newly signed Cardinals lefty, Dennys Reyes.” It would have been in Spanish, so I do not really know.
So, Reyes takes the mound. It was like a very sad song that goes something like this:
First Verse: First two batters hit hard up the middle.
Chorus: Wild pitch, both runners advance (the pitch was a foot over the umpire’s head)
Second Verse: Double to left, two runners score
Bridge: Reyes has been hit hard. Now he hits back. If a quarterback hits a guy in the numbers, it is a good thing. If a pitcher hits a guy in the numbers, it is a bad thing. Reyes nailed Leonys Martin right between the two and the six on his back. Ouch!
Chorus: Wild pitch, both runners advance (again over everyone’s head)
Repeat Chorus: Wild pitch, both runners advance. Lead runner scores. (this one was at the batter’s feet…just to mix things up)
Tag: The next batter walks.
Finally, Reyes is yanked, but the bleeding continues for Mexico. The inning ends due to the mercy rule when Cuba is up 16-4. Only one out was recorded.
I know, I know. It is only one inning. It is early and Reyes, newly signed, has not been in camp and is not in season form. He was pitching in dismal wet conditions. But still, it was not something an optimistic Cardinal fan needed to see.
Announcer, Charlie Steiner said it best, “Boy, Dennys Reyes has nothing. Not tonight.” And, he is all ours for two years.
The World Baseball Classic does not disappoint, unless you were one of the teams eliminated tonight.
Italy vs. Venezuela
The Italians and Venezuelans played once again. This time facing elimination. In this tournament, the Italians were much better than anyone really expected. Fresh off their elimination of Canada, could they send favored Venezuelan team home?
For the Italians, a Redbird took the mound. Adam Ottavino played for the Double-A Springfield Cardinals last season and earned an invite to the big league camp this spring. Ottavino did the Cardinals proud, pitching three scoreless innings, giving up one hit and one walk, while striking out three. It’s a shame he could not stay in the game. But, a pitching change was made, and the ballgame was all but over by the end of the fourth inning.
In the fourth and fifth inning, the Venezuelans went on an offense attack, scoring four in the fourth and five in the fifth. Take out those two innings, and it is a 1-1 ballgame. Leave them in, and it’s a 10-1 rout.
Venezuela and the USA will meet once again in the Pool C finals tonight.
On a side note: Nice to see former Cardinal, Cesar Izturis play. Nothing against our new shortstop, but I will miss seeing Izturis pick it this year.
Dominican Republic vs. Kingdom of the Netherlands
When the Netherlands upset the Dominicans on Saturday, it was unbelievable. The Dominican lineup is stacked. Loaded. An offensive run-making machine gun. And, who were these Netherlands players? Nobody much that you would have heard of. A couple have some big league experience, but that’s all.
The upset seemed a fluke. It seemed less of a fluke, when the Netherlands nearly upset the highly favored Puerto Rican team. By the time that the Netherlands took the field for the third time at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan Puerto Rico, people were starting to take them seriously.
The rematch was tense. The pitching was fantastic. Ten scoreless innings. Rockies pitcher, Ubaldo Jimenez for the DR was amazing, fanning ten batters, a WBC record. Netherlands starting pitcher, Tom Stuifbergen, was not as flashy as Jimenez, but the result was the same: Four scoreless innings. Stuifbergan, a 20-year-old pitcher in the Twin organization, who pitched 12 innings in the Gulf Coast League in 2007, faced down some of the biggest major league all-star bats and came out on the winnings side.
Finally, in the top of the 11th the Dominicans took advantage of an error to plate one run. Would it be enough? No. In the bottom of the 11th, the Netherlands took advantage of two Dominican errors to plate two runs and eliminate the Dominicans from the tournament.
It is no secret that in this bracket, I favor the Puerto Ricans. Just a few days ago, if you had said that Puerto Rico would be playing the Netherlands in the final of this game. I would have said, “Sweet”. Last night, I was rather hoping the Dominicans would win. I think I would rather take my chances with them. This Netherlands team is scary good. I can only hope that the 11 inning game wore them down, rather than warmed them up.
Cuba vs Australia
Australia gave the favored Cuba team a run for their money. It appeared that the Aussies might pull off another upset when they scored three in the sixth to go ahead 4-2. But, those were the last runs they would score. Cuba managed to get one in seventh and two in the eighth to pull ahead, winning 5-4.
Just in the category of things you do not see very often: a slick, unique play. The Cuban second baseman backhanded a grounder up the middle. The shortstop runs over and gets in position to receive the shuttle throw straight from the glove of the second baseman. The shortstop then throws to first getting the out. It was a 4-6-3 that was not a double-play.
I had to wonder if the shuttle toss was really faster than the second baseman turning and throwing. The announcers said that the Cubans practice this play all the time, so I would have to think so. The shortstop is definitely in a position to make a better throw to first, but that little shuttle throw out of the glove seems dangerous. Still, it was very cool to watch, more like a fast break drill in basketball.
Mexico will have their chance at revenge against the Aussies in the elimination round, while Cuba waits to play the winner.
Another side note: I find it hard to pull for Cuba when the score on the screen truncates Cuba and makes it Cub. Can I buy an “a”, please?
St. Louis Cardinals Notes
Kyle Lohse had another fine outing today against the Tigers, giving up 1 run in 4.1 innings of work. Chris Duncan made a case for his cause to be on the opening day roster with 3 RBI’s. Jason Motte took the ball in the 9th, showed command of two pitches other than his blazing fast ball and got the save. The best part: No Cardinal errors today. And, oh yeah, we won 5-2.
Korea vs. China
Korea eliminated China handily 14-0 in 7 1/2 innings. I did not make it up at 5:00 am today to watch it. Score one for my sanity.
Cuba vs. Republic of South Africa
Cuba, hitting a WBC record six home runs, topped the Republic of South Africa . The Cuban looked like the Cubans should. In a moral victory, the South Africans avoided a shut out when Jonathan Phillips hit a 2-0ut RBI single in the ninth inning to put them on the board. Final score 8-1.
Dominican Republic vs. Panama
The Dominicans looked like the Dominicans should. Bouncing back from their surprise loss to the Netherlands, the Dominican Republic shut out Panama 9-0, thereby handing them their second loss and eliminating them from the Classic. The Dominican Republic had a beautiful strike ’em out, throw ’em out play in the first. Pitcher Johnny Cueto, and catcher Miguel Olivo erased a runner and a batter in a matter of seconds. Olivo also had a big day at the plate, stroking two home-runs.
The other Dominican with a big night was not one of the names the most people know…yet. I know it because last year Nelson Cruz played for the Triple-A Oklahoma City Redhawks, before a Rangers call up late in the season. Last July, in a game against the Memphis Redbirds, I saw Nelson Cruz hit 3 home runs. One was a monster, leaving the park altogether and bouncing off the parking garage beyond left field. This year he is hitting home runs on a much larger stage.
Then the surprises begin:
USA vs. Venezuela
For the first five innings, this game went as I expected. I expected Venezuela to be a formidable opponent for Team USA. I expected their pitching to keep USA‘s All-Star bats somewhat under control. They did, until the sixth, when Team USA broke the game open, putting up eight runs in an inning that went on forever. The Venezuelans could not recover. Final score 15-6.
Mexico vs Australia
I honestly did not make it to the end of this game (very late), but I wish I had. I did see the favored Mexicans jump out to an early lead, but from the fifth inning on, the game belonged to the Aussies. They shut down the Mexican offense and starting putting up three and four runs an inning. The game was called at the end of the eighth at a score of 17-7.
And, down in Florida?
St. Louis Cardinals vs. Florida Marlins
When I said yesterday that 99% of the news coming out of the Cardinals camp had been positive, I must have jinxed them. I will not elaborate because I do not really want to talk about it. I will just leave you with today’s ugly box score:
R H E
FLA 9 9 0
STL 8 8 6
Because my remote has a hard time navigating to any channel besides the MLB Network, I have seen the following commerical dozens and dozens of time. Yet, I still smile every time I see Tim Lincecum training his video game replica. I wonder how much Tim Lincecum’s clone could make on the free agent market? I dare say that it would be significantly more than the 650K that real Timmy is getting this year.