This is a win or go back to Spring Training game for both Team USA and the Dominican Republic, in the World Baseball Classic. Twice in this tournament the American squad saw winnable games go to other teams in the classic. First the Dominican Republic in Miami when they gave up a 5-0 lead; the D.R. scored seven unanswered points to win.
Then in this second round Team Puerto Rico rattled off six straight hits against USA starter Marcus Stroman in the first inning and a sacrifice fly to score four runs. Then in the sixth inning third baseman Nolan Arenado, a usually strong defensive player, committed an error with two outs that allowed two runs to score.
After the first inning Stroman pitched well and the USA team came back to within one run when Eric Hosmer singled to score Nolan Arenado in the second and then saw solo homeruns; one by Buster Posey in the fifth and another by Adam Jones in the sixth. But the error put the Puerto Ricans ahead by three once again.
The irony is that USA reliever Andrew Miller had pitched well in the inning, allowing just one runner to get on base. But both Puerto Rican runners stole bases to get in scoring position and were able to capitalize on Arenado’s error.
Down by three with two outs in the top of the ninth, Brandon Crawford brought his team back for a chance to win with a hit to center field. “I saw a good view of it,” Crawford said when he described the play after the game. “I saw, I think it was [Angel] Pagan not pick it up clean, and that’s when I made my decision to try to go for third.”
It was controversial because the third base umpire called Crawford safe when the replay clearly showed P.R. third baseman Carlos Correa tagging Crawford before he slid, head first, into third. There is no replay in these first two rounds so the umpire’s decision is final.
P.R. closer Edwin Diaz had thrown two wild pitches in the inning so Crawford thought going for that third base was worth the risk. “… If you get to third base, you have a chance of tying the game. So I thought it was worth the risk at that point.”
As he was about to come off the field after the game Correa told the MLB Network, “I got him. No might, I got him.” when describing the play at third that put Crawford 90 feet away from tying the game.
“It was an out,” Correa said, “Obviously, there’s no replay here [in the first two rounds] and umpires aren’t going to get it right all the time, they’re not perfect, but we were able to win that game. It was a great game. It got interesting in the end, but it was fun.”
Play calling, especially behind the plate, has been an issue in this round of the Classic. Balls getting called strikes and visa versa, plus missed calls in the field have changed the course of games, including Friday night’s game. The blown call at third may not have changed much, because the two runs had already scored, but if Josh Harrison, who was at the plate for the final out, had singled Crawford would have scored and that would have changed the game. But USA outfielder Andrew McCutchen was ejected after an angry reaction to a called out. The replay showed McCutchen was right, but it didn’t matter. Had the pitch been called a ball McCutchen would have walked.
Despite the umpire errors, Team Puerto Rico is the best team in pool F, taking place at Petco Park in San Diego. They are undefeated in this Classic and have played strong under the guidance of manager Edwin Rodriguez and catcher Yadier Molina. There is little doubt in the baseball world Molina, who plays for the St. Louis Cardinals, is the best catcher in Major League Baseball right now. Rodriguez has no problem letting Molina run the show when calls time for an infield meeting. Molina is a player-coach and he’s a big reason Puerto Rico has a commanding lead in this Classic.
They also have Javier Baez of the Chicago Cubs, Carlos Beltrán of the Kansas City Royals, Francisco Lindor of the Cleveland Indians and a host of other great players, like Enrique “Kike” Hernandez of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Team USA is no slouch though. They have made it this far with good pitching for most of the tournament. On the mound they have Andrew Miller from Cleveland, Drew Smyly from the Seattle Mariners, two great catchers in Jonathan Lucroy of the Texas Rangers and Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants.
The infield has Brandon Crawford of the Giants, Nolan Arenado from the Colorado Rockies, Eric Hosmer from Kansas City, and Daniel Murphy from the Washington Nationals.
The outfield is a who’s who of All Stars: Adam Jones from the Baltimore Orioles, Andrew McCutchen of the Pittsburgh Pirates, plus Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich of the Miami Marlins.
All of them have had big games in this tournament so they have the firepower to send The Dominican team back to Spring Training.
Their opponents tonight on Team Dominican Republic has the biggest All Star roster in this Classic: Edinson Volquez of the Miami Marlins, Jeurys Familia of the New York Mets, Fernando Rodney of the Arizona Diamondbacks — and that’s just a few of the pitchers.
Welington Castillo of the Baltimore Orioles catching; on the infield grass Adrian Beltre of the Rangers, Robinson Cano of the Mariners, Manny Machado from Baltimore, Hanley Ramirez from the Boston Red Sox.
In the outfield they have Jose Bautista from the Toronto Blue Jays, Nelson Cruz from Seattle and Starling Marte from Pittsburgh.
The Dominican Republic won this tournament in 2013 so they are defending their title tonight. They were the heavy favorite when this Classic began, but they have had to face tough competition here and in Miami.
Puerto Rico plays early today, starting at 12:30 p.m., against Venezuela, who was knocked out of contention when the D.R. won Friday Night. So this game has no effect on the classic, except that if the Puerto Ricans want to enter Dodger Stadium with a winning momentum they have to beat Venezuela.
In the first round in Jalisco, Guadalajara, Mexico, the P.R. won against Venezuela 11-0, with the game ending after seven innings due to the “mercy” rule. If Puerto Rico lightens up on their play tonight, the Venezuelans have the pitching and firepower to make them pay for any lapses and errors.
Still, the big game begins at 6 p.m. PT, in Petco Park, San Diego: USA vs. the Dominican Republic. Starting pitchers will be Ervin Santana for the DR and Danny Duffy for USA.
Below are some of Claudia Gestro’s interviews with members of Team USA.
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UPDATE: Giancarlo Stanton did indeed change the game with his swing Saturday night at Petco Park in San Diego. Tied with the Dominican Republic in the 4th inning, with two outs and Brandon Crawford on base, Stanton launched a 413 foot bomb into the left field Wester Metals Building seats to give Team USA a two-run lead.
It was classic small ball that tied the game for the U.S. team, after the D.R. jumped out to a two-run lead in the first, but Giancarlo’s blast got the crowd on its feet and the shouts of “USA! USA!” took over the stadium. Up until that moment the Dominican fans with their drums and noisemakers were very evident at Petco Park.
Robinson Cano made it a one-run game in the 7th with a solo homer, but in the top of the 8th Andrew McCutchen sent a double deep into the left-center wall, scoring Christian Yelich and Eric Hosmer.
The game ended with a final score of 6-3, sending Team USA on to Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles where they will meet Team Japan on Tuesday night in a semi-final game. The members of the Dominican squad now return to their respective teams for Spring Training and the regular season.
The WBC in general has been criticized for not being all that important and many people have said Team USA hasn’t won because it lacks enthusiasm for the tournament and not all the best players available chose to play in it. Saturday’s win over the pre-tournament favorites put most of that criticism to rest.
After the game USA manager Jim Leyland told the media, “Like Adam Jones said, said, some of the teams show maybe physically a little more passion sometimes than we do, but don’t get that confused with really not being into it and really not caring. It was a wonderful feeling. We’re going to the finals. We beat a great team. I tip my hat to all the teams we’ve played so far, and we beat a great team tonight, and we held down a great lineup.”
As for the players that declined to join Team USA, Leyland said, “There were a lot of people that respectfully declined to play in the WBC and we’re not going to throw anybody under the bus. We’re going to honor the people that accepted and are here. So we’re moving forward and that’s all we’re talking about. And right now that’s the only team I care about. And these players that are here are the only players I care about right now.”
Catcher Buster Posey said, “I think definitely here in the dugout, you know guys are into it and they care, From an outsider’s perspective, I do’’t know if a lot of guys’ personalities are on display. We grow up in different parts of the world and play the game differently. I don’t think it’s really fair to players from different backgrounds to act a certain way for a tournament. But it doesn’t mean there’s less fire. There are just different ways we grew up playing the games.”
One USA player who has worn the fire on his sleeve is outfielder Adam Jones (in a video interview below). He has been a solid performer throughout the tournament and on Saturday he made “The Catch” — a leaping catch in the 7th that was so spectacular it had the crowd on its feet and the JumbTron replaying it for several minutes. The big irony being the man who hit that near homer was his Orioles teammate, Manny Machado, who tipped his hat to Jones on his way back to the dugout. Jones returned the tip.
Photos by Claudia Gestro