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!
Did Venezuela lose their luggage on the trip from Florida to California? Their uniforms made it. Their equipment made it, but one bag was missing on Saturday night‘s game against Korea: The one that carries their dominant pitching, productive bats and defensive prowess.
If so, maybe Team USA could beef up their team by buying the Venezuelan’s lost luggage for cheap here.
She-fan loves a good blowout. On occasion, it is nice when the Cardinals jump out to a big insurmountable lead. But, when I do not really have a favorite in a game, a blowout is one big yawn. Especially, when the game is all but over in the top of the first. Take out the first inning, Korea still wins, but it would have been a better game.
Instead of the battle I wanted, I got errors. I hate errors in the plural. A singular error falls under the category of “Oh well, stuff happens”. Korea had one of those. Errors, in the plural, are just painful to watch. It was like watching a Venezuelan 50 car pile up–once the crashing started, it just would not stop. Boom! Smash! Crunch!
Oddly enough, Venezuela did get an out at the plate on a wild pitch to end an inning when the bases had been loaded. You know you are having a bad night, when your big defensive break comes on a wild pitch. Five errors for Venezuela in a 10-2 loss.
Sadly, when a game has no ‘game’, then the broadcasters have to find other things to talk about. Sometimes this is cool. Like when they get to telling funny old baseball stories from their playing or early broadcasting days. But tonight, they debated amongst themselves for two innings on how and when the WBC should be played. It is a valid talking point. For about one inning. After that, it sounded like bickering.
On a side note, I about died laughing when one broadcaster said “US Americans”. If you read Red State Blue State and click on the “US Americans” link you will too. Every time I watch it, I am glad my blonde days are behind me.
After that the most interesting thing they found to discuss was the quilted sliding protection built into one butt cheek and thigh of the Korean’s pants. The quilting is not surprising considering all the protection the Koreans wear while batting. Perhaps, they have on body armor as well.
All whining and poking fun aside, the Koreans have played a great tournament. The have all the tools: pitching, speed, defense and a little power. They have earned their spot in the finals. Nobody should doubt their right to be there. They are a formidable opponent.
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 World Baseball Classic action continues…
Korea vs. Mexico
In Sunday’s very late (10:00 pm Central) game, Korea defeated Mexico using a surprising weapon: the long ball. The three solo shots were surprising both because the game took place in the pitcher-friendly spacious confines of Petco Park in San Diego and because Korea is not know for their power.
Korea also used small ball, with two sacrifices and three stolen bases. Mexico seemed unable to get their offense going against the fine Korea pitching. Korea won 8-2.
In this World Baseball Classic, there are men playing for jobs. Reportedly, Ivan Rodriguez is headed to Houston. All are playing for pride and country. The Koreans are playing for something more.
In Korea, the government requires mandatory military service from all men that must be completed by the age of 30. However, military exemption has sometimes been granted to Olympians. The Korean government has not promised military exemption to the members of the 2009 Korean roster, but if Korea brings home the championship, such an exemption is likely.
Shin-Soo Choo, a 27-year-old prospect in the Cleveland Indians organization, has not yet completed his military service. Without the exemption, he will be forced to go back to Korea and spend a couple years in the military, and then try to resume his baseball career. The Cleveland Indians, with a significant investment in Choo, were probably the only major league club that said to a player, “Yes, please, go play in the WBC” in the hopes an exemption would be granted.
Venezuela vs. Puerto Rico
Monday night, these two Caribbean rivals met in Miami. The crowd was large, loud and rowdy. Forget “thundersticks”, these fans bring everything from drums and tambourines to pots and pans. One even had a stainless steel dog bowl that she was beating on with a spoon. While the American public seems rather blasé about the WBC, there is no doubt that other countries are taking this very seriously.
I so wishing I was at this game. I have a game bag I pack with all my essentials: camera, score sheet on a clipboard, pencils, sharpies, umbrella, tickets, cell phone, hot dog money, XM radio, and a jacket. I love the idea of slipping in my tambourine or even my spare dog bowl into my game bag.
Perhaps, there is something contagious about the crowd because I was riveted to the TV, feeling the weight of importance on every single pitch. And, pitching was the story of this game.
Puerto Rico’s Ian Snell was great, but a walk, a stolen base and a single got Venezuela on the board in the third inning. Amazingly, that would be all Venezuela would need, as their pitching staff, led by Felix Hernandez, shut down the Puerto Rican offensive machine.
Venezuela‘s Ramon Hernandez added a solo home run in the seventh inning that was debated for about ten minutes before being ruled a home run. That has to be the longest home run trot in history! At first, it ruled a triple. The umpires debated on the field, then disappeared into the tunnel to view the instant replay. The replays on TV clearly showed it to be a home run. Yet, we waited and waited. Finally, the umpires appeared and declared it a home run. As it turns out, the replay equipment was not working, so after a debate among themselves, they called it a home run.
Venezuela‘s win ensures them a spot in the finals, while Puerto Rico and USA will battle for the other spot. In the rematch between the USA and Puerto Rico, we will find out what Team USA is made of. Can they rebound from their drumming by Puerto Rico in the first round?
Cuba vs. Mexico
Another 10:00 pm game at Petco Park. These are killing me. Well, actually, this one killed Mexico, as it was an elimination game.
Cuba prevailed 7-4 in this match-up. Mexico‘s success or lack can largely be judged by how first baseman Adrian Gonzalez hits. In his home park, Gonzalez only got on with a walk. Not good for Mexico. Mexico’s Cantu and Presichi both contributed solo homers, but in the end Cuba put up seven runs on eleven hits.
With the embargo against Cuba, you may wonder how do the Cubans get to play on American soil? They agree to donate any winnings to charity. These are lowest paid players in this classic, and they are only allowed to play for national pride, not prize money. Am I the only one that thinks the foreign policy against Cuba is outdated? Can we please be the “bigger” country and kiss and make up with our neighbor?
Mexico goes home. Mexican left-handed reliever, Dennys Reyes, will head to Cardinals camp in Florida, where I hope Dave Duncan can whip him into game form. In an elimination game on the 18th, Cuba will go on to face the loser of the St. Patrick’s Day game between Japan and Korea
Round two action in the World Baseball Classic action continued today. One of the things I love about baseball is that it is not a short, tall, big, small, strong or fast man’s game. It is a game where any body type can find their place. That fact was highlighted in today’s WBC action. Great big Adam Dunn, jacking a huge home run. Wiry Ichiro Suzuki getting on base again and again. A pitching match-up between Dice-K and a long, tall Cuban. The World Baseball Classic is a reflection of all the ways that baseball is played.
Here are recaps for the first two games. Game three between Korea and Mexico did not start until 10:00 pm my time. That recap will have to wait until tomorrow.
Cuba vs. Japan
This game was a rematch of the 2006 Championship game. The outcome was the same.
Japanese pitching was led by Daisuke Matsuzaka, who dominated the normally strong Cuban hitters. Japan did what they do best: manufactured runs with a bunch of singles and one double.
I do not know who said it first, but the statement of “if you watch a baseball game, you will always see something you have never seen before” was true today.
Cuban pitcher, Aroldis Chapman, walked batter number one, then picked him off at first. He walked batter number two, threw over to first and caught him stealing in a run down. Finally. the third batter was caught looking for a three up, three down inning.
During one at bat, two foul pop-ups were mishandled. One by Ichiro Suzuki in right field, and one by the catcher, Kenji Johjima (the sun was tough). Both were charged with an error, again IN THE SAME AT BAT. The Cuban batter finally struck out looking.
Cuba never got anything going in this game, while Japan looked great winning 6-0. Even so, I want to recruit some of those Cuban players. When will we ever make up with our next door neighbor? I know most Americans would like to export our goods to the island, while importing Cuban cigars. I just want Cuban to once again be the getaway it was in the days of Hemingway, and I want to import their baseball players.
USA vs. Kingdom of the Netherlands
Perhaps, Team USA bonded through adversity. In the game against Puerto Rico, Team USA seemed flat and disjointed, while Puerto Rico played with fire and unity. Tonight, Team USA looked like a team.
Brian Roberts came in to replace injured Dustin Pedroia and had a big game with a single, double and triple. Injured, Chipper Jones, who has gone 0 for 10, also exited with a sore oblique. This opened up the potential to get both Jeter and Rollins in the lineup at the same time.
There were two fabulous defensive plays by the Netherlands. Catcher, Kenley Jansen threw out Brian Roberts trying to steal 2nd, and he did it FROM HIS KNEES. Somebody forgot to warn Roberts about Jansen’s arm. I did not double check, but I do not think he has missed a stealer, yet. The Dodgers have talked about converting Jansen to a pitcher because he is having trouble hitting, but I hope he finds his bat because I love watching him behind the plate.
Also, the Netherlands, first baseman Randall Simon, made a diving stop and threw FROM HIS BACK to get the force at the plate.
Jimmy Rollins for Team USA also had a fabulous diving stop that he shuttled FROM HIS BELLY to second base, where Roberts turned it for a double play.
Team USA was wining 8-1 in the seventh, when somebody set off a few fireworks. Netherlands left-fielder, Bryan Engelhardt, hit a solo home run–the team’s first for the WBC. Team USA pitcher, Matt Lindstrom, seemed to think that Engelhardt admired the shot a little too long, because threw at hip level behind the next batter. The Netherlands team took offense to this and yelled at Lindstrom from the top dugout step. Both teams were warned.
Engelhardt might have watched the shot a second too long, but throwing at the next batter, when you are winning 8-2, is ridiculous. But, what goes around, comes around. Lindstrom gave up another run and left the game with an injury.
Under the category of something no one has seen before, catcher Brian McCann came in to pinch hit in the ninth for Ryan Braun and remained in the game in the OUTFIELD. Amazingly, no ball found him. Ryan Braun exited the game with what sounds like another oblique injury.
This ends the Netherlands Cinderella run, but they have much to be proud of. They made it to the second round. They have never been mercy ruled. Even, the USA can not say that.
The USA team had much to be proud of tonight, as well. They seemed to come together in the way they need to in order to contend in this tournament. USA now waits to face the loser of tomorrow’s game between Venezuela and Puerto Rico.
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.