The matchup on Tuesday during the World Baseball Classic looked lopsided on paper. Here was the powerful Dominican Republic led by Jose Reyes and Robinson Cano looking to cruise past Italy, perhaps its best known figure being hitting coach Mike Piazza. Yet, there was this team of virtual unknowns, jumping out to a 4-0 first inning lead and throwing a huge scare into the heavy favorites until the 7th inning when the DR scored three runs on their way to a 5-4 victory. Although I am for Team USA all the way, I was itching to see a major upset. Plus, it hurt that fellow Yonkers native Brian Sweeney was the pitcher who surrendered the game-tying sacrifice fly and the go-ahead hit after entering the game with the bases loaded and one out holding a 4-3 lead. With the game tied at 4, Sweeney made a good pitch to Nelson Cruz who broke his bat on contact. The ball trickled through to right field scoring the final run of the game. After getting squeezed on a call Saturday night against Giancarlo Stanton, Sweeney deserved a better fate. Had the Italians prevailed, I wonder what kind legacy this game would have.
I am not one to give to hyperbole with so much of it out there on the Internet, on TV and on the radio. However, one could reasonably argue that it would have been one of, if not the biggest upset in international baseball competition. I don’t want to take anything away from Italy as while we don’t think of them as a baseball powerhouse, they do play well on the world stage. The National team has won back-to-back European Championships and qualified for each Olympics from 1992 through 2004. There are several capable Major League players on their roster including Anthony Rizzo, Nick Punto and Jason Grilli. However, the Dominicans boast some of the finest players in the world with Edwin Encarnacion, Fernando Rodney and Carlos Santana in addition to Cano and Reyes dotting their roster. With a matchup like that, one could see why most people though the DR would cruise. Now, would that have been an upset on par with the 1969 World Series when the New York Mets shocked the baseball universe by beating the Baltimore Orioles in five game? No, simply because yesterday was only one game while the Mets, even if they took seven games to defeat the Birds still would have been considered a major upset. Same goes for the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays who stunned all of us by going to the World Series after so many seasons of 95-plus losses. It is very hard to quantify where this game could have ranked in baseball history given that the sport lends itself to the length of its regular season and playoffs as opposed to football where legacies can be made in one game.
As I write this, Italy has just been eliminated from the WBC by Puerto Rico, losing another late game lead, this time surrendering three runs in the eighth inning and going down in defeat by the score of 4-3. I feel badly for the team and its fans, having two stronger teams reeling only to come up short. However, the sport of baseball should only get more popular in Italy and perhaps when the next Classic rolls around in four years they will be considered a contender instead of a spoiler. The stronger the teams are in non-traditional baseball countries, the more better it is for all of us fans.
Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://venomstrikes.com