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.
The World Baseball Classic continued today in Miami with Round 2 action. Can you believe they are playing the WBC in a football stadium? Dolphins Stadium is no place for a baseball classic. What is wrong with Minute Maid Park? I would so be there, if it were in Houston.
Venezuela vs. Kingdom of the Netherlands
In this game, both teams did what they do best. The Netherlands pitched well and played good defense. Offensively, the put the ball in play, took advantage of errors and managed to eke out a run. Worth noting: they are starting to hit the ball better. Their grounders found gaps and holes today. They had six hits, but only one run.
Venezuela also pitched well, but they also had two errors. They did not hit often, but they hit big. The difference in this game was three BIG hits: Two home runs and a triple. When the Netherlands put runners on in the eighth to rally, Venezuela brought in K-Rod to shut the door. He did, and Venezuela won 3-1.
However, how amazing is it that the Netherlands has kept all of their games close? Everybody thought it was a fluke when they beat the Dominicans for the first time, but nobody is thinking that now. This is a very good “team”, with “team” being the key word. They play well together. I do not see them making it to the next round, because they need a little more offense, but they are a force to be reckoned with.
USA vs. Puerto Rico
I expected this game to be high and tight. Instead, it was low and away. From the beginning until the abrupt end, Puerto Rico dominated this game. They did everything right. They had five innings of dominant starting pitching from Javier Vasquez, giving up the lone USA run. In his last inning, he threw a hook to Mark DeRosa for a called strike three that looked the ball had been suddenly sucked out of orbit and sent crashing to the earth. If it had been in a movie, it would have looked phony. DeRosa appeared upset that he did not swing, but it did not matter. That pitch was virtually un-hittable.
Puerto Rico hit USA‘s starting pitcher, Jake Peavy, and they hit him hard. By the end of the second inning, Puerto Rico was up 6-0 on six hits (including a double and home run), two walks and a sac fly. Puerto Rico was aggressive on the bases, taking an extra one any time they could.
Defensively, Puerto Rico was solid. After watching, second baseman, Felipe Lopez take more than his fair share of grounders (there were five 4-3 putouts), I may have under estimated Lopez last year when he was with the Cardinals. He looked good on the field, and he got a dinger and a double at the plate.
Carlos Beltran. Wow. I was reminded of why I was so upset when the Royals traded him. He had two singles, a walk, a home run, a stolen base and two RBI’s. Ivan “give-this-guy-a-job” Rodriguez had another good game going three for four with two doubles. Actually, every Puerto Rican hitter had at least a run or an RBI.
I am looking at my scoresheet, trying to think of something positive to say about Team USA‘s performance. I can only come up with Brian McCann who got a single and a RBI double off of Vasquez, the pitcher he usually catches. Seems he can find Vasquez’s pitches with both his glove and his bat.
Puerto Rico scored four in the seventh off Matt Thornton to invoke the mercy rule, winning 11-1. I did not see that one coming. I knew Puerto Rico had lots of great players and really seemed to gel as a team. I thought they could possibly beat Team USA, but not dominate them.
It will be interesting to see if Team USA can bounce back from this devastating loss. They will get their shot at the Netherlands tomorrow. Puerto Rico is emerging as the team to beat, if only because no one has done it yet. On Monday, Puerto Rico will meet a Caribbean rival, Venezuela. In San Diego, Round 2 action will also kick off tomorrow with Japan vs. Cuba and Mexico vs. Korea.
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.
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.
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