I-chi-ro! I-chi-ro! I-chi-ro!
The final game of the World Baseball Classic was everything a baseball fan could ask for. Even going into extra innings, just in case you needed a little more nail-biting baseball.
I had no favorite. I had no pick. I felt Korea’s hope rested on their starting pitcher, Bong, who had been successful against Japan in this tournament. Japan’s success would rest on what kind of night Ichiro Suzuki had. On rare occasions, my instincts are spot on.
Most people live for the long ball. They are nice, but I live for sparkling defensive plays. The kind you put a star by on your score sheet. Japan had a beautiful outfield assist to get the runner at second, and they executed a perfect strike ’em out, throw ’em out double play.
Not to be out done, Korea’s second baseman dove for a line shot, getting the out and keeping the runner at second. They also turned a very long 5 – 4 – 3 double play, which ended the inning and negated the run scored from third. No easy feat against the speedy Japanese.
In the end, it would come down to Ichiro Suzuki at the plate in extra innings with two runners on. Japan could not have asked for more. Ichiro’s stance at the plate is intimidating. He lifts his bat as if to say “en garde”. He seems to use the motion to balance himself and prepare for battle. He stakes out his territory on the left side of the plate where he will make his stand.
It is not that he is going to take the ball deep, but he will often find a way some way to do some damage. Maybe, he runs out a little infield single and then steals second. Maybe, he pokes one down the line. This time, it was a nice shot up the middle. Two runs score. Very clutch.
Japan held on to the lead to win their second World Baseball Classic title. Once again, Daisuke Matsuzaka was named the tournament’s MVP, with a 3-0 record and a 2.45 ERA. But, it was one of those games where it was a shame that anyone had to lose.
It is no secret I love this tournament. The global competition. The various styles of play. Seeing heroes emerge. It is intense. It is quality baseball.
One of the things I am taking away from this tournament is the joy of discovering players I should know and getting reacquainted with others I have known. As a Cardinal fan, I live with blinders on. I know the Cardinals well. I know their division rivals pretty well. I am familiar with most of the National League outside the NL Central. You bring up the American League, well, that is where things get a little hit and miss.
I had no knowledge of Brian Roberts when he burst on the scene for Team USA in Round Two. His performance in the tournament was unforgettable. I could have told you Ichiro Suzuki played for the Mariners, but I had never really watched him. Now, he is on the list of people that if I see him at the plate while flipping through channels, I will stop to watch.
I have not enjoyed seeing Carlos Beltran play since the time we both called Kansas City home. Oh, I still see him once in a while, but it is against the Cardinals so I cannot really enjoy it. Although I love new Cardinal shortstop, Khalil Greene, I loved Cesar Izturis, too. The Classic gave me the opportunity to reconnect with these old friends. My list of players could go on and on.
The arguments of where, when and how this tournament should be played will continue for the life of the World Baseball Classic. We have been playing the World Series for over a century, and we still argue about that. There are no perfect contests. Only perfect moments within the contest.
The devastating curve ball that freezes the batter. The fast ball that gets turned on and drilled. The throw that is just in time. The slide that narrowly avoids the tag. The 6-4-3 that is like a sigh of relief or a punch in the gut. Stretching a single into a double, a double into a triple. The perfectly timed jump at the wall to snag a ball that was gone. The clutch RBI single. The diving catch. And, the walk-off anything. Isn’t this why we watch? Regardless of the details, this is why we watch.
So, this will be my last World Baseball Classic post until 2013. It has been a good run. I will miss it next Spring. When the WBC comes back around, I hope to find myself in the stands cheering on Team USA and good baseball.
In the meantime, we can turn our attention to our respective teams. Go Cardinals!
My dad often says “It’s an ill wind that blows no favors”. The wild springtime Oklahoma winds did me no favors last night as they rattled my windows, keeping me from sleep. The ill wind blowing in from left field at Dodgers Stadium did Mark DeRosa no favors as it pushed two potential home runs back into the park.
Brian Roberts, the Orioles second baseman, came to the World Baseball Classic late, but made an immediate impression in his first game. He made an immediate impression in the semi-final game against Japan by hitting a lead-off home run.
Jimmy Rollins had a great night at the plate with two singles, a triple, a walk a stolen base and a run. David Wright hit a nice double to bring Rollins in.
With a 2-1 lead, the game was rolling along nicely for Team USA, until the fourth inning when Japan came to bat and stayed. Before Roy Oswalt was finally replaced after giving up a double to the eighth batter in the inning, Japan had plated five runs. Although the wind was still blowing hard, Team USA had sailed into the doldrums. The sails luffed uselessly in the breeze. The colors were no longer flying high.
As Korea had the night before, Japan did everything right. Great pitching. Solid defense. Offensively, they will chip away and run you to death. One of the highlights of this classic has been watching Ichiro Suzuki. His presence at the plate is fierce and commanding. Kind of like a mini-Albert Pujols. He raises his sword, I mean, his bat as if going into battle. He is something special.
So, Team USA goes home, with their collective teams breathing a sigh of relief. It is this divided focus between team and country that undermined Team USA’s chances from the beginning. They were handcuffed both by the players that did not play, and the restrictions placed on the players that did. Last night, in the devastating fourth inning was Roy Oswalt “getting in his work” as promised to the Astros, just as Jake Peavy did for the Padres when they were blown out by Puerto Rico?
Or, maybe it was chilly and it took a while for Grabow to warm up. Team USA was also handcuffed by the injuries, which may have been limited if they had been game ready. One thing that became very clear in this tournament is that other teams were better prepared.
Many of the players for Puerto Rico were fresh off winter ball. Is there any doubt that Ivan Rodriguez was in top form? Is there any doubt that Puerto Rico had their best players on the field? Same goes for Venezuela, Cuba and the Netherlands. These teams played like, well, teams. That goes double for Japan and Korea.
The debate of where, when and how the Classic should continue will rage on. Should it be played earlier? Later? Mid-season? Regardless of the time and venue, if the United States wants to win this tournament, everyone from the general managers down to the bat boy have to take it seriously. Major league ballclubs have to see it as an honor to have their best players on Team USA. And, those players have to be in season form and have time to work together so they can play as a team.
Finally, does this mean that baseball is no longer “our game”? Yes and no. The game has become larger than us. We gave it wings and sent it out in to the world. It belongs to the world now. That is what this Classic proves. However, every boy in every nation that has ever slipped on a glove or swung a bat has dreamed of playing for teams with names like the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers or St. Louis Cardinals.
We are still the country where the best talent comes to play. Is that because baseball players are paid well here? It has a little something to do with it. But, imagine a WBC where all MLB players regardless of nationality were only allowed to play for the United States. There would still be four contending teams: USA, Cuba, Japan and Korea. Imagine now, that players from Cuba, Japan and Korea could easily opt to play in the United States. Tournament over. USA wins.
I am not proposing this at all. I love to see the best go play for their homelands. It is good competition. It is good baseball. I love seeing how the styles of play have evolved in each country, adapted to the particular peoples’ strengths. My point is this: it may appear they are beating us at our own game, but truly they are making our game better.
At every inclusion of race or nation, American baseball has become a better game. Just like the inclusion of every race and nation has made America a better country. Once again, baseball is the reflection of our state of the union. In recent times, both our country and our team have faltered on the international stage. We have lost some of the fundamentals that made us great. Still, we are the country and baseball league that many aspire to.
In tonight’s final game of the World Baseball Classic, Korea and Japan will face off for a fifth and final time. I have no doubt that Japan and Korea are the best two teams in this tournament. I have no favorite (although I have a soft spot for Ichiro Suzuki). Just bring on the world-class baseball!
The late baseball games are taking their toll. I woke up this morning too tired to think let alone write. After you read this, you may think I am still too tired to think. Or, write. But, here is the latest in the World Baseball Classic.
Puerto Rico vs. USA
When Puerto Rico lost to Venezuela, my hope of both USA and Puerto Rico making it to the finals was crushed. So, I knew that no matter what happened in the Puerto Rican-USA rematch, I was not going to be completely happy.
Team USA recovered from the rout handed to them by Puerto Rico earlier in the tournament and made this game very tough, very close. In the end the normally rock-solid Puerto Rican bullpen faltered and allowed the USA to score two runs in the bottom of the ninth. The last was driven in by a walk-off single by third baseman, David Wright. USA wins 5-4.
There were a couple of nice defensive plays:
· Mark DeRosa dove to rob Carlos Beltran of a single
· Brian Roberts dove to snag a sharply hit ball. The momentum of the slide brought him up to his knees, where he made a good throw to first for the out.
There was one spectacular defensive play:
· This will be a highlight reel staple for years to come. Carlos Beltran tracked a Brian McCann would-be home run ball to the wall, made a perfectly timed leap and grabbed it.
So, a revitalized USA team moves on (which I am happy about), and a very, very good Puerto Rico team goes home (which I am sad about). I suppose I should be more excited to have Yadier Molina and Jose Oquendo back in the Cardinals camp. And, I will be. Tomorrow.
Next up, the USA, assured a spot in the finals, will play Venezuela (again) in the pool finals in what may be a wet, drawn out game.
Japan vs. Korea
This was the third meeting of these two teams. The first two games were split. One a rout by Japan. One a 1-0 victory for Korea. In this game, Korea took advantage of an error to get on the board in the first and never looked back. The Japanese offense never really got going against the excellent Korean pitching.
When Japan‘s boxscore shows the following for Ichiro Suzuki, you know they did not have a good day:
AB R H RBI BB SO LOB AVG
4 0 0 1 0 0 3 .000
This 4-1 win guaranteed Korea a spot in the final round. Japan will face Cuba again in an elimination game. They met previously in the first game of Round Two, when Japan shutout Cuba 6-0. I will hate to see either of these great teams go home.
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.
A few days ago, I wrote about going on a baseball bender when I saw how much baseball there was to see over the weekend. I mentioned that I might have a baseball hangover this morning. They say that the best cure for a hangover is the “hair off the dog that bit you”, so the best thing for a baseball hangover had to be a little more baseball.
Fortunately, Korea and Japan were already playing in the Pool A finals of the World Baseball Classic when my alarm went off this morning. So, I turned on the TV and took my medicine.
Korea vs. Japan
Japan humiliated Korea in their first match up. Korea had their revenge today. Korea plated one run in the fourth, and it was all they needed. Both Korea and Japan will advance to the next round, where they will face the top teams from Pool B (Cuba, Mexico, South Africa and Australia).
Just a couple of aesthetic notes: I love the way the Japanese fans sing to their batter. Also, Japan‘s black batting helmets with the matte finish look tough. Nice change from the shiny ones we usually see.
Canada vs. Italy
This game was going on at the same time as the game between Puerto Rico and Netherlands. I had one of the TV and one on my computer. Very hard to keep track of both, and I admit a bias toward watching the Puerto Rican game.
I do know this: Canada had lots of runners that they could not bring home. Eleven runners left on base. There have been other upsets: Netherlands over the Dominicans and Australia over Mexico. But, this might be the biggest because it eliminates Canada. The Italians will advance to face the Venezuelans once again.
Puerto Rico vs. Netherlands
For an awfully long time in the game, it appeared that the Netherlands would continue their role as spoiler and upset the Puerto Ricans. In their home country. In a 1-0 game. The humiliation would have been unbearable.
The Netherlands eked in a run and pitched seven shut-out innings. Pudge Rodriguez, who had a huge 4-4 game on Saturday, served as DH, and except for a single, the Netherlands pitching had him looking very uncomfortable at the plate.
I will admit I was very frustrated during this game. OK, fine. I became that angry, shouting fan that I so dislike. They sent Bernie Williams from second on a single. I have nothing against being aggressive, but bless his heart, he was dead before he rounded third. Then, there was the wild pitch, and Aviles at 3rd did not go. He could have been in the dugout drinking Gatorade before the catcher tracked down the ball. Instead, he joined the long list of runners stranded. Perhaps, Puerto Rican Manager and St. Louis Cardinals Third Base Coach, Jose Oquendo should have been coaching third, rather like a minor league manager.
I have no problem with small ball and bunting the runners over, but when Oquendo asked Yadier Molina to bunt with a runner at 2nd, I disagreed with the decision. Even though, I could see the point, I loudly disagreed. The bunt was botched. Enough said.
I disagreed even louder when he asked Pudge Rodriquez to bunt. How often do you think Pudge has been asked to bunt? Not a lot, since he is a good hitter. Let him swing away and play to his strengths instead of having him waste two strikes trying to get a bunt down
I should have been more grateful for these debacles, because they set up one of the most beautiful things I have seen in this tournament.
Many of the highlights of this Classic have come from the catchers. Catching runners stealing, pick-offs, blocking wild pitches, clutch hitting, power hitting and even base stealing. This game was no exception. Enter: Gold Glove Catcher, St. Louis Cardinal, proud Puerto Rican, clutch hitter and my personal favorite, Yadier Molina.
First, (because defense comes first with catchers) Molina had a beautiful strike ’em out, throw ’em out double-play to end the seventh inning. The throw was perfection!
Next, in the eighth inning, the Netherlands pitching finally started to crack, walking the bases loaded. With one out, Molina comes to the plate, and drives the second pitch down the 3rd base line for a double, scoring two. This not only puts the Puerto Ricans on the board, but it puts them ahead.
I shouted so loud, my dogs left the room. Not the angry shouting of earlier, but joyous shouting. A giant “YES!” I watched all weekend as various catchers had great games, and I enjoyed every single one, but I wanted MY catcher to have a great game, and he did! Yadi “Clutch” Molina strikes again.
Jesus Feliciano drove in one insurance run, and the Puerto Ricans held on to the 3-1 lead in the ninth to win it. The Netherlands will face the Dominican Republic once again. Puerto Rico will wait to play the winner of that game.
Mexico vs. South Africa
After being blown away by the Australians, Mexico needed to have a win. Not just to stay alive, but to salvage their pride. They got one.
To the credit of the South Africans they managed to stay with in striking distance for much of the game. South African 2B, Gift Ngoepe hit back-to-back triples in his first two at-bats. On his third at bat, he was asked to bunt. What is the deal with asking the hot slugger to bunt? This was the third bunt attempt of the day that I questioned. And, the third one that failed.
I am sure there is some baseball bible that lists the Ten Commandments for when a bunt is called for, based on outs, score and runners on base. I do not know these “rules”. And, if tonight was any indication, I do not think knowing them helps.
In the seventh, Mexico took advantage of a walked in run and a throwing error that scored two. Adrian Gonzalez drove a nail into South Africa‘s coffin with a three-run homer in the eighth. Mexico got the decisive victory they needed, winning 14-3, eliminated South Africa from the tournament. Mexico will go on to face the loser of the game between Cuba and Australia.
My copy of the video game, MLB 2K9, arrived yesterday. I only played for a short time, but as with most PS2 games, I was pretty horrible. Adam Wainwright and I were starting to get the hang of pitching, and my fielders were starting to get to the ball although they have to stop and think which button they need to hit to throw. Oh wait, that’s me.
However, I can not figure out how to get the batters to swing the bat. It has something to do with the joysticks because every once in a while I could get one to swing, then I would try the same thing on the next pitch and my batter would just stand there. I know, I am a retard. Anyone know how to hit the ball?
There is a two page list of commands, but no where does it tell you how to swing. It does tell you how to bunt, but we all know how I feel about that.
Photo Credits: Getty Images/Al Bello
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!