USA TODAY Sports’ Jorge L. Ortiz recaps the championship between USA and Puerto Rico at Dodger Stadium.
USA TODAY Sports
LOS ANGELES – They stormed the mound Wednesday night, streaming in from the dugout and bullpen, hugging one another tightly, blinking back tears.
They hoisted the decorative bald eagle mascot on their shoulders, ran around the outfield carrying the American flag, sprayed champagne in the clubhouse, and came back onto the field to celebrate the glorious moment with their fans and family.
You try telling Team USA they don’t show enough emotion as they lowered their heads, with gold medals hanging down from their necks, standing proudly on stage on the Dodger Stadium infield while the crowd chanted, USA-USA-USA.
Team USA, playing its own style of baseball, and expressing itself in its own fashion, won the country’s first World Baseball Classic championship, routing Puerto Rico, 8-0, in front of 51,568 zealous fans at Dodger Stadium.
“There’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s,’’ USA pitcher Danny Duffy said. “Everybody has a different way to celebrate, a different way to show their passion.
“That’s what made this tournament so fun, watching everyone having their different style.
“This was just a different animal.’’
Sure, perhaps Team USA wasn’t doing jumping jacks after home runs, running to the plate after runs, or thumping their chests after huge moments, but they relished the environment and passion shown by everyone else.
“The Dominican fans, the Puerto Ricans, the Venezuelan fans, just the energy that was in the ballpark for those games,’’ said Ian Kinsler, who hit a two-run homer in the third inning, “was beyond by expectations. It was crazy. I loved it.’’
The Americans say they formed a brotherhood in this two-week tournament. They really didn’t care what players snubbed invitations to join them, or anyone who downplayed the magnitude of the WBC. They had one another.
And now, they will forever be known as the first USA team to win the WBC, perhaps changing what this tournament will mean to future generations.
“It was amazing,’’ USA catcher Jonathan Lucroy of the Texas Rangers said. “That’s why we celebrated like we did, just like we won a postseason game. It was an amazing feeling. You’re not representing an individual team, but an entire country.I can’t see anyone turning this down again, not after seeing what we did. I think we’ve changed how everyone will look at the WBC.
“We were a part of history.’’
It didn’t matter that Clayton Kershaw or Madison Bumgarner weren’t here. Or Mike Trout or Bryce Harper either. They bonded together under manager Jim Leyland, refused to succumb to their past failures of never reaching the championship game, and kept their cool in the most trying times.
“I don’t mean this to sound wrong, but up until this point,’’ said USA manager Jim Leyland, “the other countries were probably into this event a little bit more than the United States. But we had players that wanted to be here, and that’s the players you want.’’
Leyland, 72, was emotional after the game, saying it would be the last time he would wear a uniform. His fabulous managerial career ends with three pennants, a World Series title, and a WBC championship.
“I had the honor of managing for our country,’’ Leyland said. “The coaches have the honor of coaching for our country. The players have the honor of playing for our country.
“But this was really about the men and women that serve our country.’’
Marcus Stroman, ace of the Toronto Blue Jays, perhaps best symbolized what this meant to Team USA.
This is a guy who agonized over whether to pitch for Puerto Rico or USA . His mother was born and raised in Puerto Rico, and he wanted to please his mom. Yet, the more he thought about it, the more he felt compelled to pitch for Team USA. He was born and raised on Long Island, graduated from Duke University, and his father is a retired New York police officer.
It turned out to be the decision that altered history.
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Stroman, voted MVP of the tournament, was magnificent on this night, suffocating of the life and emotion from Puerto Rico. He pitched a no-hitter for six innings, and only permitted two balls to even leave the infield. He left the game after giving up a leadoff double to Angel Pagan in the seventh, walking off the field to a thunderous standing ovation from the crowd of 51,565 at Dodger Stadium.
“This was probably one of the biggest if not the biggest game I’ve ever pitched in,’’ Stroman said. “I love pitching in these moments. I love the atmosphere. I feel like the bigger the game, the more I’m able to get up, the more effective I am.
“We won for America, for the United States.
“I’ll be back in four years to defend the title.’’
When the WBC rolls around again in four years, it could feel altogether different. It won’t be known as just a traveling show that breaks up spring training. It will be a source of pride, knowing that these may be games played in mid-March, but it sure felt a whole lot like October.
“It was like playoffs combined with an All-Star Game,’’ USA first baseman Paul Goldschmidt said. “It was really cool.’’
Why, there was even bulletin board material provided when Team USA discovered that Team Puerto Rico planned to fly straight to Puerto Rico on Thursday, with a planned parade route. There were even printed Puerto Rico championship T-shirts.
“Yeah, it definitely added a little fuel to the fire,’’ Stroman said, “trying to pretty much count us out before the game even started. We knew that going into it. So I think each and every guy kind of put that on their shoulders.’’
Said USA outfielder Christian Yelich: “Yeah, we knew about it. It’s not like we really needed any extra motivation for a night like tonight. We wanted that just as bad, even if they had T-shirts and a parade planned for tomorrow.
“But were talking before the game that there’s no way we lose this. We just couldn’t see a scenario where we lost this tournament.
“The way this team came together, and just went out every night and did anything we can to win, it was the most fun I’ve ever had playing baseball.’’
The Team USA players, many who stayed on the field more than an hour after the game, had trouble even saying good-bye. It seemed almost incomprehensible that they still have another week of spring training, unfair really.
“How do you go from playing in front of 50,000 people for your country,’’ Lucroy said, “to playing in front of a few thousand fans in spring training?’’
Yet, when they go back to their respective teams this weekend, they’ll not only be bringing along their gold medals, but lifetime memories.
“I think we’ll never forget these times we had,’’ USA first baseman Eric Hosmer of the Kansas City Royals said. “To be the first team to represent USA to bring home the gold is something we’re all going to take with us.
“And something we’ll never forget.’’