In the end, the best team won. The Dominican Republic completed their perfect sweep through the 2017 World Baseball Classic with a 3-0 win over Puerto Rico, winning their first ever WBC title.
Everyone knew coming into the tournament that the Dominicans boasted one of, if not the, best lineup in the tournament, filled with all-stars like Jose Reyes and Robinson Cano. But it was the pitching of the Dominican Republic that carried them to victory in the finals and in fact, throughout the tournament. While their bullpen had several big names in it, the starters were mostly unknown. But those starters more than held their own, led by Twins right-hander Samuel Deduno, who got the start in what has to be the biggest game of his career. For five innings, Deduno kept the strong Puerto Rico lineup in check. Only once did he allow a runner to get as far as third base and even that was with two outs.
Deduno got the win, giving up two hits and three walks in his five innings of work. He struck out five and may be the breakout star of the tournament. Deduno's performance throughout the tournament has caught the attention of the Twins, and although he's not currently on their 40-man roster, he's become a strong candidate to win the fifth starter job based on his WBC performance.
Meanwhile, the Dominican Republic took an early lead by scoring two runs in the first inning off Puerto Rico starter Giancarlo Alvarado, who signed with the Rockies this off-season after spending the last three years in Japan. Leadoff hitter Jose Reyes lined a ball that would have been a home run in most parks, but at AT&T Park, it bounced off the high right field wall for a double. After Erick Aybar bunted Reyes over to third, Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez made the fateful decision to intentionally walk tournament MVP Robinson Cano. This set up a righty-righty match-up, but it also meant that Alvarado had to face Edwin Encarnacion with runners on the corners and only one out. Encarnacion made Puerto Rico pay by clubbing a fly ball over center fielder Angel Pagan's head for a two-run double.
After that, the game settled into a pitcher's duel, with neither team managing much offense. The Dominican Republic extended their lead to 3-0 in the fifth inning when a two-out double by Aybar off Hiram Burgos scored Alejandro De Aza. The Dominicans got a two-out double in the sixth inning by Nelson Cruz and a one-out triple by Reyes in the seventh, but failed to plate them both times.
Meanwhile, Puerto Rico only managed one real threat in the game. In the top of the seventh inning, reliever Octavio Dotel gave up a leadoff single to Mike Aviles and then walked Alex Rios to bring the tying run to the plate. But Dominican manager Tony Pena then summoned Pedro Strop out of the pen. Facing the bottom of the order, Strop struck out Carlos Rivera and Pedro Valdez before getting Jesus Feliciano to foul out to end the inning.
In the ninth, the Dominican Republic turned to Fernando Rodney, who has been close to unhittable all tournament. After Mike Aviles reached to leadoff the inning on an error by Miguel Tejada, Rodney retired the next three hitters in order, two by strikeout. With that, a national celebration took place back in the Dominican Republic.
Rodney got his seventh save of the tournament. In the eight games he pitched in, Rodney allowed only one hit over 7.1 innings. He walked three and struck out eight.
Alvarado took the loss for Puerto Rico. He gave up two runs on two hits and an intentional walk in the only inning he pitched.
Reyes was 2 for 4 with a double. Aybar was 2 for 3 with a double and a sacrifice bunt.
With that, the 2013 World Baseball Classic has come to an end. The Dominican Republic went a perfect 8-0 through the tournament, the first time any team has done that. They beat Puerto Rico three times.
When Al asked me what I wanted to write about this off-season, I immediately said that I wanted to cover the World Baseball Classic. Little did I know how much work it would turn out to be. Starting with the qualifying rounds in September, I've followed every game. I don't regret any of it and I think I did some good work. Despite what turned out to be a lackluster final, the tournament was filled with great games and great passion.
Despite some problems and missteps, the 2013 WBC was the best one yet. It brought us the emergence of a baseball power in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Brazil showed enough to make me believe that it's a sleeping giant. It showcased some possible breakout talent like Sam Deduno and Michael Saunders. It had one of the biggest brawls in baseball since the 1980s. It gave American audiences a glimpse of how baseball is played throughout the rest of the world: with passion and joy. While interest in the United States (and on this blog) has been lukewarm, the tournament was a smash hit in Asia and the Caribbean. Television ratings in Japan and Puerto Rico for games involving their national teams were among the highest ever seen for a sporting event. Even the ratings for the MLB Network were the highest they've ever had for anything other than a playoff game.
The World Baseball Classic is here to stay. There will be changes in the future, and the organizers will take the lessons of this tournament to try to make the next one in 2017 even better. But the ultimate purpose of the WBC is not to get Americans to watch, but to get the rest of the world to watch. The WBC is an attempt to make baseball a more global sport. The profits from the tournament get funneled back to various national federations for the advancement of the sport. The sport is expanding in Europe, African and parts of Asia and South America where it wasn't played before.
While their victory was sweet for the Dominican Republic, that the true legacy of the 2013 WBC going forward.