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.
Wow! With a full day of Spring Training and World Baseball Classic action, it was like March Madness, my way. Just think I get to do it all again tomorrow. Life is sweet! Or, la vita dolce! Or, la vida es dulce!
There were so many surprises:
Surprise #1: All on my own, with no mechanical intervention, I inexplicably woke up at 5:00 am. Bizarre. When I checked the time, I realized that the game between Japan and Korea was underway. So, I flipped on the TV and watched. Feel free to question my sanity. I know I do.
Surprise #2: Japan dominated Korea. Game called in the seventh on account of the “please, have some mercy and don’t make me blow my whole bullpen in the first round” rule. I thought this would be a tight game, but it got away from Korea in the first, and they continued to fall behind.
Surprise #3: The Netherlands beat the Dominican Republic. Or, as the jerseys say, “The Nederlands beat Dominicana”. Did anyone predict this? I do not think so. The Netherlands jumped out to an early lead taking advantage of Domincan errors, and they managed to hold on. The Netherlands were considered a non-issue in this tournament, but they made themselves an issue today.
Surprise #4: The USA vs. Canada game did not go into extra innings. This was great game. I really thought Canada was going to come back and tie it in the ninth, but the Americans held on.
Surprise #5: Pudge Rodriquez stole a base in the matchup between Panama and Puerto Rico. It’s just not something you see catchers do very often. The pick-off throw came over to first, he took off for second and made it. This is a man looking for a job, and today he made a strong case that he deserves one. (See more later)
Surprise #6: Bobby Abreu is doubled off at third. He made it there in plenty of time. Did the turn-and-look toward home. Thought the play was over and walked back to the base. In a heads up play by the Italians, the shortstop, Nick Punto, cuts off the throw from right fielder, Mario Chiarini. Then, he throws to the pitcher, Mark DiFelice who is covering 3rd and tags Abreu out. Abreu was very angry with himself, but made up for with a two RBI single in the next inning.
What I loved:
From the Toyoko games: SPEED. So, much speed. The runners are always running. On a ground ball, it looks like someone hit the fast forward button for the infielders. I thought the slowed down instant replay even looked fast.
Netherlands vs. Dominican Republic: In the ninth, the Netherlands are clinging to a one run lead and need two outs. Dangerous Dominican hitters are capable of stealing the win with just a couple swings of the bat. Then, if I were keeping a scorecard, the sweetest letters in baseball would have appeared. Fine, they are only sweet if you love great catching as I do. The letters are “CS”. In this case “CS” would be followed by “2-5”. Or, as MLB At-Bat said:
“With Hanley Ramirez batting, Willy Traveras caught stealing 3rd base, catcher Kenley Jansen to third baseman Yurendell de Caster”
I do not know this Kenley Jansen. The WBC website says he is part of the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. I do know this: It was a sweet throw, working around a right-handed batter, and I suspect we might all know him someday.
USA vs. Canada: This was just a great, hard fought game. So many great plays. There was a great “CS” play in this game, where Russell Martin caught Jimmy Rollins trying to take second. I cheered, and then I remembered that Martin was playing for Canada, and I was supposed to be cheering for USA. Oops. So, to make up for it, I will mention that USA’s catcher Brian McCann had a great day at the plate with a homer and sac fly, adding up to a three RBI day.
Puerto Rico vs. Panama: Even if I was not someone who always notices the catcher, Puerto Rico‘s catcher would have been impossible to miss. Ivan “Pudge” Rodriquez had an amazing day at the plate. Two home runs, one double, one single, one walk, one stolen base and a grand total of four RBI’s. In addition, he caught a shutout. His agent’s phone should be hot tonight.
Venezuela vs. Italy: Italia seemed to have it in for Bobby Abreu. They hit him with a pitch, doubled him off third (see above) and robbed him of an extra base hit. The rob was spectacular. Abreu smacked a ball to the gap in right-center. At least it was a gap. There was no Italian outfielder on my TV screen. Suddenly, right-fielder, Mario Chiarini enters the screen, flying through the air, making the grab and breaking his belt in two when he comes in for a landing on the turf.
Also, to continue the theme of great catching moments, Venezuelan catcher, Ramon Hernandez sent a textbook, on the money, perfect throw down to second base to “CS” Frank Cataianotto. It was a beautiful throw…low, just barely to the 1st base side of 2nd, where the momentum of the throw hitting the second baseman’s glove seems to push the glove right into the runner, catching him just before he touches the bag. So sweet.
St. Louis Cardinals
And, oh yeah, the Cardinals won their spring training game against the Houston Astros today. After being so hard on Joel Pineiro last week, I should make a point to say that he had a fabulous outing today. He pitched four scoreless innings, giving up only one hit. In the best way possible, he did not look like a fifth starter at all.
Actually, 99% of the news coming out of the Cardinals camp has been very positive. 25-man roster spots will be hard to come by in April, and a number of young players are making a strong case for why they should get a spot.
I listened to Mike Shannon and John Rooney’s broadcast for the first time this spring. So, nice to hear those familiar voices.
Time to get some rest. Tomorrow is another big day!
On Friday, Venezuela, with a 5-0 record, won the 2009 Caribbean Series. So, on the last day of the series, only bragging rights were on the line.
Venezuela played for a perfect record.
Puerto Rico played for the right to say they were the only team to beat the Champion.
Mexico played for the home country crowd and to finish above .500.
The Dominican Republic played for their 2nd win, to beat the #2 team in the series and to end on a win.
Who won the bragging rights?
Puerto Rico vs. Venezuela
The Puerto Rican Leones de Ponce finally threw the monkey off their back on Friday, winning their not only the first game of this series, but their first game in the Caribbean Series since 1982. Now, with the series ending, they seem to be on a roll. The Leones scored 9 runs total in the first five games. In this last game, they scored nine runs in one inning.
The Venezuela team came into this series with the least amount of rest. So, maybe it was fatigue. Or maybe, having the series bagged dulled their edge. Whatever it was, their performance in this final game was flat. Puerto Rico won 9-1.
However, the whole atmosphere of the game seemed relaxed and fun. And, why not? Both teams were walking away with something, a championship for Venezuela and a second win for Puerto Rico.
Mexico vs. Dominican Republic
Coming into the Caribbean Series, the Dominican Republic was the favorite to win, but they fell short in close games. In the final game, the Dominicans showed off their power, with two home runs, to win over Mexico 5-3.
In the Mexican lineup, Adrian Gonzales was missing and his brother Edger was DH’ing. One of treats of this series has been watching these two brothers team up on the right side of the infield and in the lineup.
Watching the Caribbean World Series has on one hand been a treat, like a warm sunny winter day. On the other hand, it made me hungry for baseball season, kind of like how eating one potato chip makes you want the whole bag.
Also, I’m thinking some year a little trip to the Caribbean Series would be a fabulous vacation: warm weather, sunshine, beaches and baseball. That is my personal heaven. I probably will not make it to Margarita, Venezuela next year, even though it sounds like my kind of place. But, some year I will be in the stands of the Serie Del Caribe singing, dancing and yelling the only five Spanish words I know: Queso! Taco! Cerveza, por favor! Gracias! Wow, that’s six!
Two more games will be played, but they will not impact the winner of the series crown.
That was decided on Day Five.
On Friday night, Venezuela continued their winning streak defeating Mexico 5-3 and winning the Caribbean Series title. When the teams took the field, Mexico was the only other team still in contention for the championship.
On their previous meeting, the game went scoreless until the bottom of the 11th, when Venezuelan, Hector Giminez hit a solo shot to end the game. Mexico played another 12 inning game against Puerto Rico on Thursday. All the games in this series have been close and sometimes long, hard fought battles. So, even though Venezuela came in with a perfect record, they by no means had the title in the bag.
The mostly Mexican crowd was loud. Very, very loud. Music, horns, thunder sticks, shouting, clapping. In the bottom of the ninth, the fans were shouting (in Spanish of course), “Yes, we can.”
In answer to the cheers, the Mexican team did score one run and brought the tying run to the plate. However, the Venezuelan righty reliever, Francisco Butto, shut the door, recording his fourth save in four games, the most in Caribbean Series history. The Venezuelans celebrated to the sound of the song, “We are the Champions!”
In the matinee game, the Dominican Republic faced the Puerto Ricans. At the start, the Dominicans only had one win in the series, while the Puerto Ricans were looking for their first. One at a time, Puerto Rico put up three runs, while their pitching staff shut down the Dominicans, winning their first game of the series 3-0.
In the final day of this six game series, Puerto Rico will face Venezuela. Puerto Rico can not prevent Venezuela from winning the series, but a win will give them bragging rights for beating the winner of the series. Venezuela is no longer playing for a championship but a perfect record. In the late game, Mexico will face the Dominican Republic. Mexico will be playing for their hometown crowd, while the Dominicans are hungry for one more win.
The final games will not be played for trophies or titles, but for the things these countries seem to place great value on: Pride, fun and the love of this great game.
On Day Four of the Caribbean Series, Venezuela continued on in perfection, achieving a 4-0 record after defeating the Dominican Republic 3-2.
Mexico stayed in contention for the series title by persevering through a 12-inning bout against the Puerto Ricans. The score was 1-1 going into extra innings. Mexico put up four runs in the 12th to win. Puerto Rico led with 12 hits to Mexico‘s 10, but could not bring runners home.
Today’s game between Venezuela and Mexico could decide the series. Mexico must win to stay alive. A win for Venezuela would clinch the title. Also, Puerto Rico will be looking for their first win against the Dominicans.
Question: What can the Caribbean Series tell us about what to expect from these countries in the World Baseball Classic?
Answer: Not much.
The participants in the Caribbean Series are the teams that won the winter leagues in Puerto Rico, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Mexico. They are the best team from those leagues, not necessarily the best their countries can field. The teams participating in the Caribbean Series are not “Team Puerto Rico” or “Team Mexico“. They are:
Mexican Winter League – Venados de Mazatlán (Mazatlán Deer)
Dominican Winter League – Gigantes del Cibao (Cibao Giants)
Venezuelan Winter League – Leones del Caracas (Caracas Lions)
Puerto Rican Winter League – Leones de Ponce (Ponce Lions)
Although the Caribbean Winter League teams do have a few Major League players on them, mostly they are a place for minor leaguers and the unsigned to hone their skills. In this series, only a handful of players are holding a spot on a 40-man Major League roster. However, scouts are attending this series, so it is a great opportunity for a player to get noticed.
Conversely, the provisional World Baseball Classic rosters read like a who’s who of Major League Baseball. For the countries in this series, there are names that appear on both rosters. The Mexicans have 10, the Puerto Ricans have 11, but the Dominicans and Venezuelans only have 1 each. So, the teams we will see in the World Baseball Classic bear very little resemblance to these Caribbean World Series teams.
However, the one thing this series may tell us about the World Baseball Classic relates to Mexico. Infielder brothers, Adrian and Edgar Gonzales, do appear on both rosters. They have been instrumental to Mexico‘s success in this series and will make “Team Mexico” tough to beat in the WBC.
The pitching duels of the first two days of the series gave way to a slugfest on Day Three.
Venezuela continues to dominate the series, keeping their winning streak intact by defeating the Puerto Ricans 5-2. The Venezuelans were more efficient scoring 5 runs on 8 hits, while the Puerto Ricans scored 2 runs on 7 hits. The Venezuelans did not hit homers. They got the job done with several doubles and 2 stolen bases. Can this team lose?
The Puerto Rican team just cannot seem to get their offense going, and now have a disappointing record of 0-3. Can this team win?
The slugfest came in the late game between the Dominican Republic and Mexico. The score was back and forth until Mexico finally prevailed, winning 12-9. The Mexican effort was led by the Padres’ Adrian Gonzalez who hit three home runs. A power outage that delayed the game for 50 minutes did not cool the bats.
As it stands this morning, Venezuela is 3-0, Mexico is 2-1, the Dominican Republic is 1-2 and Puerto Rico trails 0-3.
The action continues today with match-ups between the Dominican Republic and Venezuela as well as Mexico vs Puerto Rico.
Two aesthetic characteristics of note make this series different from American baseball games: uniforms and music. The uniforms and batting helmets are covered with sponsor advertising, not unlike a Nascar uniform. Fittingly enough, on the back of the Mexican uniforms in the spot where a player’s name would be, you’ll find the word, “Corona”. Although, I think it is fine in this league, I hope Major League Baseball never comes to this. I do not want to see a beer advertisement on a Cardinals uniform, not even if it is, appropriately, Budweiser.
Now, the music is something I like. Except for the 5 seconds when the batter stands in and the pitch is delivered, the music seems to be going constantly. Some of it is Caribbean such as the distinctive Reggaeton beats I heard during the Puerto Rican games. Some of it is American, such as “Who let the dogs out” or “Another one bites the dust” after a strike out. The music makes the atmosphere festive and alive.
Only three days left in this six-day series, then it’s a quiet week until pitchers and catchers report.
Good news! There is baseball to watch this week. Or, maybe, it’s beisbol. The Caribbean World Series is underway in Mexico. Ah, why are we not there? There is sun. There is baseball. What more does a person need?
In the Caribbean World Series, four countries face off: Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, playing round robin style.
My knowledge of Caribbean baseball is limited, so my expectations were formed by the Caribbean natives I watch most:
Albert Pujols – Expectation: Big slugging from the Dominicans.
Yadier Molina – Expectation: Extraordinary defensive Puerto Rican catching
Cesar Izturis – Expectation: Great Venezuelan defense, speed and contact hitting
There are no Mexican Cardinals, so I held no preconceived notions. Overall, I predicted the Puerto Ricans and Dominicans to dominate this series.
Thus far, nothing has been what I expected. The dominant pitching has been the biggest surprise. The first four games have been low scoring battles to eke a few runs across the plate. All have been one point games, with no team scoring more than 3 runs in a game.
The Dominicans, who I thought would put up big offensive numbers, have only scored 4 runs in two games. Although, it was a 2-run homer that made the difference in their game against Puerto Rico, so I guess they are sluggers. They have a 1-1 record, losing to Venezuela and defeating Puerto Rico.
Surprisingly, the Puerto Ricans are down 0-2 in the series, losing to Mexico and the D.R. In the game against Mexico, I did not see the excellent catching that Puerto Rico boasts. A stolen base and a pitch that got away contributed to runners getting in scoring position. In a 3-2 game, everything counts–either for or against you.
The Mexican pitching has been stellar, giving up only 3 runs, yet they have a 1-1 record, having defeated Puerto Rico and lost to Venezuela.
Venezuela has been the biggest surprise. They are leading with a perfect 2-0 record. Last night they won an amazing pitching duel with a power shot. In the bottom half of 11 scoreless innings, Venezuelan first baseman, Hector Gimenez hit a 2-out solo home run to end the game. Slugging was not on my list of Venezuelan expectations.
For more on the Caribbean World Series, you can visit these links:
If you do not have the MLB Network, but would like to watch the Series, you can pay $9.95 at the site below and watch all the games live and on demand until February 15th. I did have some problems with logging in, but I believe they have me fixed up now. Be sure to pay and log in exclusively to either the English or Spanish page. The broadcasts are separate. Also, when you pay, be sure to save the email address on the receipt. It was the only contact I could find when I was having problems. However, once I emailed, my problem was solved quickly.