LOS ANGELES – Breaking down Wednesday’s final game of the World Baseball Classic between USA and Puerto Rico.
United States 8, Puerto Rico 0
The game: It was an agonizing decision, torturous really.
Toronto Blue Jays ace Marcus Stroman really wanted to pitch for Puerto Rico, where his mother was born and raised, but the more he thought about it, he felt he needed to pitch for Team USA.
It turned out to the decision that was the difference in Team USA’s first WBC championship.
Stroman took a no-hitter into the seventh inning, and even after a third-inning walk to Carlos Beltran, immediately induced a double play grounder.
Angel Pagan finally broke up his no-hitter with a leadoff single to left field, ending Stroman’s night, as he walked off the field to a thunderous standing ovation.
He was so dominant that he permitted just three balls out of the infield.
Team USA’s starting rotation was the story of the tournament. They overwhelmed the opposition, going 3-1 with a 1.25 ERA. They gave up just one run in their final 23 innings.
State of the WBC: Team USA, for the first time in the tournament’s four editions, are the champions.
They may have forever changed the way major leaguers view the tournament.
They will be the defending WBC champions until the next tournament, which likely will occur in 2021, says Commissioner Rob Manfred, despite baseball returning to the Olympics in 2020.
“You know, going back to the very first WBC [in 2006], we went three years instead of four at the beginning,’’ Manfred said, “really was designed to get into a cycle where you weren’t in an Olympic year. 2021 is not an Olympic year. I personally believe the clubs are excited about keeping this event going. I think 2021 is probably a pretty good bet.’’
Pivot point: Stroman suffocated the Puerto Rico offense, never giving them a chance to even breathe life into the game.
Man of the moment: Come on, who else but Marcus Stroman?
All he needed was some offensive support, and second baseman Ian Kinsler provided that with a third-inning homer over the left-center-field fence, and Team USA was off and running.
Needing a mulligan: USA third baseman Nolan Arenado
Arenado had a tournament to forget, striking out eight times in his last 11 games.
He entered the game hitting just .115 with nine strikeouts in 26 at-bats, but manager Jim Leyland still stuck with him as their cleanup hitter.
The confidence didn’t pay off.
He struck out in his first two at-bats, looking worse with each at-bat, and then botched a sacrifice bunt. He finally broke his zero-for-11 skein with a seventh-inning single, breaking a streak of six consecutive strikeouts.
Manager’s special: Chris Archer, ace of the Tampa Bay Rays, was ready to leave Florida and join Team USA to pitch in the championship game.
Manager Jim Leyland said, “Not so fast.’’
He told Archer to stay home.
He was sticking with Stroman for the title game.
Stroman certainly rewarded Leyland with a magnificent performance, leading USA to the WBC championship.
What you missed on TV: Puerto Rico decided before the game that win, or lose, they were going to fly together to their native island to celebrate their WBC performance.
“This means so much to our country,’’ veteran reliever J.C. Romero said. “We want to be an inspiration. Something they can be proud of.’’
The WBC has taken Puerto Rico by storm, with fans gathering for viewing parties at restaurants and bars to watch games.
Stores have even run out of blonde hair dye, with entire classrooms dying their hair to emulate their idols.
Simply, the Puerto Rican players said before the game, it was the biggest game of their lives.
“I believe with the performance that we had in Mexico and San Diego,’’ Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez said, “that the excitement for baseball in Puerto Rico has been increasing. It grows and grows, and it becomes stronger. Obviously to win always of course attracts people that are in the positions of helping even more further in the field to develop the program, to develop a consciousness and the prospects so youngsters can see in [Francisco] Lindor or [Carlos] Correa or somebody like that so they can imagine a future.’’