This was the type of game that makes someone a baseball fan. Like a finely crafted novel, or a perfectly plotted movie, it had action and drama, suspense and tension. It perfectly mixed the build up with the action and kept us riveted. I’ve heard all the complaints about the World Baseball Classic, but if you are a baseball fan and are choosing to ignore this tournament, you are missing out on essential baseball. So many games have delivered truly incredible baseball.
This was the type of baseball game that hooks someone for life.
Until the eleventh inning, that is, when the automatic baserunners ruined the pacing and the rhythm of the game. Baseball isn’t just about the action and the drama. It’s the buildup, the tension, and the inaction that set the stage for the denouement. The automatic baserunners are a sloppy, rushed, and unsatisfying ending.
Despite this, I come away from this game feeling an excitement that only comes from really great baseball. And from seeing your team’s closer destroy the competition.
Puerto Rico 4, Netherlands 3, 11 innings
Edwin Diaz throws hard and is exciting and good, and following Scott Servais’s comments, he’s going to be incredibly fun to watch when he pitches in October. The intense experience he had tonight will only help him then. He came in for Puerto Rico in the tenth inning throwing hard (according to Gameday, he topped out at 99.3 mph). The first batter he faced, Jurickson Profar, put up a good fight, taking a few balls and fouling a couple pitches away. Then, Diaz came back with the heat and Profar could only do this:
The next batter, Wladimir Balentien, took a pitch up and in and wasn’t too pleased with it. The benches cleared briefly, but the Mariner’s closer isn’t afraid of the Japanese Home Run King and proceeded to strike him out. Jonathan Schoop took a ball, then swung away without success and became the third strikeout victim.
Diaz came back out for the eleventh inning. With the automatic baserunners on first and second, he allowed the customary bunt, then intentionally walked the next batter to load the bases. On his first pitch to Curt Smith, Diaz induced an inning-ending double play. Just like they teach you in baseball school.
Other things happened in this game as well. Each team had a two-run home run in the first inning, making us think this may be a slugfest. Things settled down on the scoring front, but there were plenty of baserunners. Until the top of the tenth inning, Puerto Rico’s pitching staff failed to throw a 1-2-3 inning and the Netherlands only retired Puerto Rico in order three times in the game.
There was some questionable baserunning, and some questionable umpiring calls. The most memorable gaffe belongs to Profar. After his first inning single he wanted to fire up his dugout and the crowd, so he motioned excitedly on his casual stroll back to first. Yadier Molina, master of the blink-and-you-miss-it snap throw caught him for the out:
Puerto Rico won in the bottom of the eleventh inning on the classic bunt, intentional walk, sacrifice fly. Credit Eddie Rosario with the game winner.
Technically, Diaz will not be available for Wednesday’s championship game against the winner of the United States and Japan. However, he doesn’t seem to want to take that as the final word:
Here is the answer from Edwin Diaz when asked about pitching in the WBC championship. pic.twitter.com/fxMHMhIpVp— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) March 21, 2017
I know people worry about injuries to their team’s players, but I love a player who desperately wants to be on the mound for the big games.
Mariners in the WBC:
Edwin Diaz (Puerto Rico): 2 innings pitched, 0 hits, 0 runs, 1 walk (but only because of the 11th inning auto-base runners), 3 strikeouts, and the win!
Emilio Pagan (Puerto Rico): Did not play
All times are PDT, all games are broadcast on MLB Network and MLB.tv.
Semifinal 2: United States vs. Japan, 6:00 PM
Final: Semi Winner 2 vs. Puerto Rico, 6:00 PM Wednesday
Puerto Rico: Like Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico has some exciting talent on the roster. Also like Venezuela, the pitching is the question mark. Mariners closer Edwin Diaz and pitching prospect Emilio Pagan hope to help the rest of the staff advance the team to Round 2. The infield of young stars Francisco Lindor, Javier Baez, and Carlos Correa join veterans like Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina. Puerto Rico played in the championship game last year. They may lack the pitching to get back.
Netherlands: Some big names fill out the roster for the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Andrelton Simmons, Xander Bogaerts, Jonathan Schoop, Didi Gregorius, and Jurickson Profar are the big Major Leaguers. It’s safe to say the Netherlands won’t have to worry about running out of short stops. Wladimir Balentien, the breaker of Sadaharu Oh’s Nippon Professional Baseball single-season home run record in 2013, will roam the outfield.
United States: Ah, the team that makes you wonder how good they would be if their country and players only cared about the WBC. This is a bit unfair because the players who are playing for Team USA are gushing and excited for the experience. The United States has never made it to the finals of the WBC, and while they certainly have the talent to advance, other countries have more oomph. The roster is made entirely of Major and Minor League players.
Japan: Winners of the first two World Baseball Classics, they were eliminated in the semi-finals in 2013. The team called Samurai Japan is under pressure from a population of baseball fanatics in Japan to avenge that loss. The only Major Leaguer on their roster is Nori Aoki. Throwing seven (!) different pitches, the ace of the team is Tomoyaki Sugano from the Yomimuri Giants. Tetstuto Yamada of the Yakult Swallows recorded a Triple Three (.300 batting average, 30 home runs, and 30 stolen bases) in 2015 while leading the league in home runs (38) and stolen bases (34).