Another day, another round of fireworks for the participants in the World Baseball Classic. Cuba got the day started off with a brilliant display of power, eviscerating the club from Chinese Taipei 14-0. As the day roll on we saw a pair of teams advance out of Pool C, while the favorite, Venezuela, saw their tournament come to a quick conclusion. Over in Arizona things got a little more heated with Mexico and Canada having a good ole’ fashion brawl before the United States vanquished Italy on a David Wright grand slam. Let’s run through all of Saturday’s action:
Canada bashes Mexico, then they bash each other
Canada entered play on Saturday with their tournament lives on the line after taking a 14-4 thrashing at the hands of Italy on Friday afternoon. Another loss would mean doom for our neighbors north of the border and not only did Canada need to win, they needed to win big. Number 3-4-5 hitters Joey Votto, Justin Morneau, and Michael Saunders decided to put that plan into action. The trio combined to go 9-13 with 2 walks, 4 doubles, 6 RBI, and they scored 6 runs to boot, powering the Canadian’s to an easy victory.
Unfortunately, Mexico didn’t take to kindly to the Canadians need to put up runs. Well, that and the fact that Luis Cruz doesn’t understand how the World Baseball Classic works. So after Chris Robinson bunted with his team up 9-3 to start the 9th inning. Cruz decided to tell his pitcher to hit the next hitter, Rene Tosoni. After one try just missed plunking Tosoni on the arm, Arnold Leon was finally able to get the job done. Tosoni was nailed between the shoulders, took exception, and charged the mound. From that point on, everything went according to its usual script. The benches cleared, fights broke out, and 7 players were tossed.
So why was Cruz in the wrong? In a Major League game there is an unspoken rule that says a hitter should not attempt a bunt if his team is up by a safe amount of runs. The rule itself is a bit foolish for multiple reasons (the biggest one being what IS a safe lead?), but it’s still a rule most big league players follow. But things operate a little differently in the World Baseball Classic.
For one, run differential can be extremely important. In the World Baseball Classic, the difference between a 4-run win and a 5-run win can be crucial. Just ask the Korean team. You know, the one who was sent home after going 2-1 in group play because they only had a +2 differential whereas the Dutch were at +3 and the Taiwanese were at +7. Canada was entered play on Saturday at -10. That’s not going to qualify for anything except for a flight back home should they end up in a tie. The bunt made sense in the situation although the rule may need to be looked at and that’s something both managers seemed to be in favor of.
Canadian manager Ernie Whitt was in full support of changing the rule, saying
“There’s got to be another method other than the scoring runs, running up the score on the opposing team,” Whitt said. “No one likes that. That’s not the way baseball’s supposed to be played. … And unfortunately teams are knocked out of the tournament because other teams run up the score on them. Unfortunately that’s what you have to deal with when you have that type of format.”
Mexican manager Rick Renteria wasn’t as adamant for change, but he was definitely open to the idea.
“It was just simply, I think, a misunderstanding,” Renteria said. “In a normal setting, a normal professional setting, I should say, a 9-3 bunt in that particular situation would be kind of out of the ordinary. But based on the rules that have been established in this tournament, the run differentials and things of that nature, it was talked about before; that those things may occur. I think that if [the rules] are not changed maybe I needed to do a better job of explaining them to my players. I thought I had. I thought I had it understood … I think that everybody will learn from it. I think it will be obviously a topic of conversation for everybody for a little while and maybe it will bring some light or maybe some understanding or maybe help us clarify.”
The U.S. has the Wright stuff against Italy
Another night, another slow start out of the gates for the Americans. Tonight however, the US was able to rebound in time to still snatch victory from the jaws of defeat over an Italian team that advanced thanks to Canada’s early victory.
The American lineup finally awoke from its slumber, rapping out 11 hits, 5 walks, and 6 runs in support of some great pitching. David Wright struck the key blow in the 5th inning, blasting a grand slam deep into the Arizona night where it landed some 400-odd feet later in the stands. Things were elementary from their from Team USA. Jeremy Affeldt relieved an effective Ryan Vogelsong and he then he handed the ball off to Ross Detwiler, who closed the door, allowing just 1 hit over the final 4 innings.
The American victory sets up a do-or-die Game 3 against Canada with starters Jameson Taillon going for the Maples and Derek Holland on the bump for the Stars and Stripes. Holland is a big game veteran and a southpaw which should play nicely against Canada’s lefty loaded lineup. Taillon, on the other hand, will be pitching in the biggest game of his life. The right-hander is just 21 years of age and is currently the #19 rated prospect in all of baseball in the Pittsburgh Pirates system. He’s got a good, hard fastball and a plus curve that could keep the U.S. lineup off-balance.
Cuba throttles Chinese Taipei
You want power, how’s this for power? Thanks to the 4 homers Cuba bombed in Saturday morning’s game they now have a total of 10 in 5 WBC games. The rest of the tournament field has just 13 homers combined! That’s ridiculous, much like the middle of the Cuban order, who were once again the keys to victory on Saturday.
Jose Abreu, Frederich Cepeda, Yasmany Tomas, and Alfredo Despaigne all sent moonshots into the Tokyo Dome bleachers in support of Danny Betancourt, who was brilliant over 6 innings. Betancourt is now 2-0 in the tournament, having thrown 10.2 innings with an 11-3 strikeout to walk ratio. He’s allowed just 7 total base runners and neither opponent he’s faced has been able to muster even one run. Cuba will face the loser of Sunday morning’s Japan-Netherlands game for a spot in the semifinals.
Venezuela exits with a thud
Before the tournament started I listed Venezuela as the 2nd best team in the tournament behind the United States thanks to a lineup featuring Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and a whole host of World Series winners and All-Stars. But Venezuela never got their offense going in either of their first two games, scoring just 3 runs in both games. They’ve hit just .200 as a team, which ranks just ahead of China and Australia and just behind Brazil. Venezuela also hasn’t stolen a single base and they haven’t hit a single homer. With just 3 games to make an impact, their offense outside of Marco Scutaro hasn’t done anything and Puerto Rico and the Dominican took advantage.
Both countries dispatched Venezuela by comfortable margins and they each took care of business against the punching bag known as Spain, which is why they are moving on. Puerto Rico and the Dominican will face off on Sunday evening for first place in Pool C.