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
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.
Two Caribbean teams cruised past their opponents to ensure themselves top seating in the next round of the WBC. Next port of call: Miami.
One Caribbean team guaranteed themselves a spot in the next round, but they have one more stop before sailing on to San Diego.
Kingdom of the Netherlands vs. Puerto Rico
This final game of the Pool D should have been between the Dominicans and Puerto Rico, but it was not. Although the story of David (the Netherlands) defeating Goliath (the Dominicans) is compelling, I was a little disappointed the Dominicans never faced Puerto Rico in this tournament. Or, maybe I was just afraid the hot Netherlands would come up with another upset.
I need not to have worried. The Netherlands seemed to fizzle as Puerto Rico handed them a 5-0 shutout. The Puerto Rican win was very much a team effort. Starting pitcher Jonathan Sanchez pitched 4 fine innings, giving up two hits, one walk and striking out four. Not bad from a pitcher that might only be considered the Giants fourth or fifth starter, but when your rotation has three Cy Young winners, it’s hard to break into the top three.
The fine bullpen finished the job. Manager Jose Oquendo used the 4-0 and 5-0 lead to give several relief pitchers some work.
One RBI a piece goes to Beltran, Rios, Rodriguez, Soto and Cora. Only one extra base hit: a triple by Rios. The Netherlands did have a different catcher behind the plate tonight, Sidney de Jong. The Puerto Ricans took advantage of two pitches that got away from de Jong and a missed popped fly. The regular Netherlands catcher, Kenley Jansen, has been stellar behind the plate.
Venezuela vs. USA
In earlier tournament action, Team USA handed Venezuela a decisive loss. In the final game of Pool C, Venezuela got their revenge fueled by a couple of Blancos.
Centerfielder, Gregor Blanco had a three for five day at the plate, including a double, a triple and one RBI. Catcher, Henry Blanco, went three for four with a solo home run that initially put Venezuela on the board. However, Henry Blanco’s biggest play of the day came in the 9th inning.
Down two runs, Team USA‘s Jimmy Rollins gets on with a walk. Dustin Pedroia files out (could it have been that pitch the Playstation claims he can’t hit?). Derek Jeter reaches on an error. So, the tying run is on with one out. With Kevin Youkillis batting, Jeter and Rollins attempt a double steal. Blanco guns down Jeter at second. The wind in Team USA‘s sails just died. The next pitch caught Youkillis swinging at strike three, and it was all over with. Venezuela wins 5-3.
Mexico vs. Australia
Earlier in the tournament Australia handed Mexico a huge loss. Tonight, Mexico returned the favor, very efficiently, in only six innings, winning 16-1.
From Mexico, the Hairston brothers, the Gonzalez brothers and two guys named Ojeda that are not brothers put together a big night. Oh yeah, Karim Garcia went 4 for 4 with 4 RBI’s, too. Two Jorge’s (Cantu and Vazquez) also contributed to the RBI totals.
The Australians seemed to throw every pitcher they had at Mexico, but could not contain their bats. Mexico only needed two pitchers: Jorge Campillo and Rodrigo Lopez
Australia is going back down under, while Mexico will be moving on. They will face a tough Cuban team tonight to determine who will face Japan or Korea in the next round.
Round 2, Pool 2: Miami
In Pool 2, the Venezuelans will face the Netherlands. No one is taking the Netherlands for granted any more, despite the face that Puerto Rico beat them twice, neither game was a rout. I am looking forward to seeing the match-up of both team’s fine pitching.
Also, in Pool 2, Puerto Rico and Team USA will meet. I was rather hoping they would not meet for a while, so I would not have to pick between my country and the team with my favorite Cardinal. With the way, Oquendo has the catchers paired with starting pitchers, it is likely that Yadier Molina will not see action against Team USA. That could help.
I know I am supposed to cheer for Team USA, but there is not a player on Team USA that I feel any type of attachment to. No one from my team or my backup team is playing for Team USA. From my backup backup team, there is Jeter, but the Yankees are my backup backup team because I like to watch Jose Molina behind the plate. Who, of course, is Puerto Rican. I swear, all roads lead to San Juan.
The best I can do is hope for a really close, well played game, where I will neither be completely satisfied by the win nor completely devastated by the loss. Fortunately, this is not an elimination game. Do not judge me too harshly, Puerto Ricans are Americans, too.
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.
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.