The World Baseball Classic is wrapping up its third extravaganza this week. For the third straight time, the United States will not be playing for the championship. It does seem kind of odd that the sport that has been dubbed “The National Pastime”, the sport we brought to countries around the world and yet we can’t win its international Cup, for lack of a better term. However, I do hesitate to draw any kind of conclusion about this turn of events or what it means to us and to other nations about our status as a baseball powerhouse.
You know the old axiom, “good pitching beats good hitting”. That certainly was the case as the United States scored a grand total of four runs during its losses to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Perhaps Team USA had cold bats or the pitching of the other two countries were throwing darts or it was a combination of both. I saw most of both games and it was more of a case of the pitchers throwing the ball where they wanted to. The pitchers themselves don’t have to have sparkling resumes or even br very good but in a one game, take-all , situation any pitcher can get hot. In the game with the DR, Samuel Deduno and Kelvin Herrera combined for six innings allowing only one run to the Americans. Deduno, who will turn 30 in July, finally made it to the Majors last year with the Minnesota Twins going 6-5 with a 4.44 ERA in 15 starts. Herrera, age 23, was a good reliever last year for the Kansas City Royals posting a 2.35 ERA in 76 games. Decent seasons from the pair, but nothing spectacular. And then there was the starting pitcher for PR, Nelson Figueroa who surrendered only two hits over six shutout innings to eliminate the USA. This is the same Nelson Figueroa who has bounced around through different organizations, will turn 39 in May and has a grand total of 20 Major League wins. Now, before you say that the U.S. should have pounded those pitchers into oblivion, think of Don Larsen. Larsen pitched perhaps the greatest game in baseball history, tossing a perfect game in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series. Just two years prior to that one magical day, he sported a 3-21 record. He finished his 14-year career with a mark of 81 wins, 91 losses and a 3.78 ERA. Any pitcher can turn in an exceptional performance on any given day.
Then there is the feeling that the fans of other countries are more passionate about the WBC that we are here and that translates to those respective countries’ players taking it more seriously. While I agree that the fan interest is much lower here, I don’t think our guys are any less intense or any less prideful. You should have seen the dugout for the Americans after they scored a couple of late runs as they tried to rally against Puerto Rico. I don’t think Team USA’s players are any less excited about playing in the WBC than their counterparts. Consequently, I believe the guys from other nations like the DR , PR and Cuba don’t play any harder now than they do for their regular Major League teams. They might be a little more excited winning these WBC games because they win for their countries but that doesn’t mean their level of intensity or their thrill of victory is any less in Major League Baseball. Just take a look at Yadier Molina celebrating World Series victories for the St. Louis Cardinals. The only players in other lands that may be playing “harder” are those that are looking for a Major League team or, as in the case of Robinson Cano, looking to get a springboard to a big payday.
It is very disappointing that the United States will once again not be crowned champions of the World Baseball Classic. However, that does not make me any less proud of the team for representing our country on the international stage. It also does not make me think that American baseball players are any less skilliful than their international peers. We will see what happens in four years as Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, barring injury, will help Team USA get over the WBC hump and generate an American level of excitement that has been missing the first three times.
Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://venomstrikes.com