USA wins World Baseball Classic

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In spectacular and historic fashion, Team USA won the World Baseball Classic championship game Wednesday night at a sold out Dodger Stadium, shutting out Puerto Rico, a team USA manager Jim Leyland said, “Up until tonight they played better baseball than anyone in the tournament.” The final score was 8-0.

Team Puerto Rico

Unlike the semi-final game Team USA played Tuesday night against Team Japan, the gold medal game was played in mostly dry conditions.

The starting pitchers for the game were Seth Lugo for Puerto Rico and Marcus Stroman for USA. “Who,” you might ask? It’s a common reaction — and criticism — of the World Baseball Classic: many of Major League Baseball’s best players didn’t show up, especially to represent the USA squad.

If you look at the rosters of both teams that played Wednesday night, you’ll see a long list of All Stars, Gold Glove and Silver Slugger recipients, plus quite a few that have won World Series rings. These were no lightweight players in the WBC. It wasn’t just the USA and Puerto Rico teams either. The Dominican Republic put together such a strong team of All Stars they were picked to win it again, repeating after their 2013 WBC win.

The Starting pitchers for the championship game are both major league talents. Lugo was called up by the New York Mets last season and found success immediately. He has an ERA of 2.67 and won two of the games he pitched in the Classic.

Team USA

Marcus Stroman of Team USA pitches for the Toronto Blue Jays and is in his third year with Toronto. He has an ERA of 4.37. Wednesday night he pitched six shut out innings, allowing just one run and a walk. That was against a team with Yadier Molina (the best catcher in baseball right now), Javier Báez, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, T.J. Rivera, Carlos Beltran, Angel Pagán and Enrique “Kike” Hernández.

The line up Lugo faced included Nolan Arenado, Brandon Crawford, Eric Hosmer, Ian Kinsler, Giancarlo Stanton, Andrew McCutchen, Christian Yelich and Adam Jones.

Jones, who plays the outfield for the Baltimore Orioles, had the most spectacular defensive play of the tournament on Saturday when, in San Diego’s Petco Park, (Jones’ hometown no less) he leapt high above the centerfield wall to grab what looked like a sure-thing homerun by Jones’s Orioles teammate, Manny Machado. As he trotted back to the dugout Machado tipped his hat to Jones, who acknowledged his teammate in kind.

There were a couple of fans sitting there that thought they were going home with a souvenir.

Jones emerged as the leader of Team USA, but there was also strong leadership from Cleveland Indians pitcher Andrew Miller and Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer.

USA Second Baseman Ian Kinsler

The question about the players that didn’t participate in the tournament had dogged players and managers throughout the Classic. On Tuesday, after USA’s win over Japan, second baseman Ian Kinsler, another veteran and leader on the team, told reporters, “I don’t know why there’s so much attention on the players that aren’t here, you know, as opposed to the players that are here, representing the United States.”

Kinsler, who plays for the Detroit Tigers, hopes Team USA’s success in this tournament will encourage other players to participate in 2021. He homered in the top of the third inning, scoring catcher Jonathan Lucroy. That put USA ahead 2-0.

In the fifth Christian Yelich (Miami Marlins) got an RBI single and later in the inning Andrew McCutchen got another RBI single (infield) that scored Yelich.

In the seventh Brandon Crawford (S.F. Giants) hit a two-run double and Giancarlo Stanton (Marlins) followed with an RBI single. That put USA ahead 7-0.

McCutchen hit another RBI single that put the score at 8-0. Pitcher David Robinson of the Chicago White Sox closed the night for USA, allowing just one hit, a single by Angel Pagan of the San Francisco Giants.

Confetti enveloped Team USA during
the trophy ceremony

As Team USA celebrated the win with a victory lap around Dodger Stadium, the Puerto Rico team stood outside their dugout watching USA celebrate. As the victors ran down the third base line, Puerto Rico, led by Molina, applauded their opponents. It was one of the most gracious things witnessed in professional sports. Afterwards members of both teams shook hands. In a couple of days they will all be back to Spring Training, which ends in the next two weeks, and some of them will be teammates. For example, Crawford, from the US team, will once again join Pagan with the Giants.

In the post-game press conference manager Jim Leyland said, “Congratulations to all the teams, it was a great event. It’s obviously a very special moment. It’s different from a World Series championship, to be honest with you. I’m not going to compare the two.” He added, “ But it was just a wonderful experience being with all these players from different organizations.”

Eric Hosmer told the media, “When you play with USA across your chest there’s just nothing you can describe that just matches that.” He added, “It’s a tremendous feeling, a tremendous honor.”

Thousands of USA fans remained at Dodger Stadium
to watch the trophy ceremony

Marcus Stroman had praise for the Puerto Rico line up, which he shut out for six innings, “The line up is unbelievable. It’s an All Star line up so you have to do your best.” He also said, “You really have to make your pitch, each and every pitch, because there’s no let up.”

It was at the start of the bottom of the seventh that Stroman gave up his lone hit to Angel Pagan. Leyland took him out and replaced him with Sam Dyson (Texas Rangers) who got the next three batters out, the last two being strikeouts.

The USA has never won this tournament — has never played in the championship game even — until this year so Wednesday’s win was an historic moment. Many of the players, including World Series champions, considered it the best experience they had playing baseball. Winning a gold medal has a way of doing that.

Photos and video reports by Claudia Gestro
Top photo: Tournament MVP Marcus Stroman hoisting the World Baseball Classic Trophy