Since the first World Baseball Classic in 2006, one constant question has been “Why does the United States do so poorly?” No more. Behind a brilliant pitching performance by the Blue Jays Marcus Stroman, the United States won their first WBC title with a 8-0 win over Team Puerto Rico.
From the very beginning, it was clear that Stroman was going to pitch the game of his young life. (So far. I expect he’ll have bigger ones down the line.) Stroman walked Carlos Beltran to start the third inning, but erased him in a double play. That was the only baserunner that Stroman would allow against the powerful Puerto Rico lineup until Angel Pagan broke up the no-hitter with a double to lead off the seventh inning. That would be the last batter that Stroman would face and he exited to a thunderous ovation of the Dodgers crowd of just over 51,000.
The irony of this is that Stroman is Puerto Rican on his mother’s side, and Team Puerto Rico actively recruited him to pitch for their side. It certainly seems that the WBC title was decided when Stroman decided to pitch for Team USA.
For his efforts in tonight’s game and throughout the tournament, Stroman was named tournament MVP.
Meanwhile, Puerto Rico starter Seth Lugo got through the first two innings unscathed, but allowed a leadoff single to catcher Jonathan Lucroy in the third. That brought up second baseman Ian Kinsler, who made some controversial statements earlier in the day about “playing the game the right way.”
Kinsler’s home run made it 2-0 Team USA after three innings.
Team USA stretched the lead in the fifth inning, as Lugo seemed to run out of steam after four innings. Kinsler singled to lead off the inning and Adam Jones walked. Christian Yelich came to the plate and lined one up the middle to make it 3-0.
Then Andrew McCutchen drove in another run on an infield single, but the real story here is that Puerto Rico shortstop Francisco Lindor almost made the greatest defensive play you’ll ever see.
Had it been Lucroy running to first, he just might have gotten him. Instead, McCutchen got a single, an RBI and it was 4-0.
Brandon Crawford ended almost all doubt about the outcome of this game in the seventh inning when he came to the plate with the bases loaded, facing Puerto Rico veteran J.C. Romero, who has played in all four WBC tournaments so far.
Hiram Burgos relieved Romero and Giancarlo Stanton greeted him with an RBI single to make it 7-0.
An infield single by McCutchen made it 8-0 in the top of the eighth on a play that Javier Baez made a bad throw to first.
Team USA manager Jim Leyland said he was going to stick with the pitchers who got him here. He did, and they got him to the end of the game. Sam Dyson relieved Stroman and Dyson got a groundout and two strikeouts to keep Puerto Rico scoreless. Pat Neshek pitched the eighth inning and gave up a leadoff single to Yadier Molina, but Baez hit into a double play and after a walk to Eddie Rosario, struck out pinch hitter Kennys Vargas.
David Robertson pitched the ninth and allowed the third and final Puerto Rico hit for the evening to Pagan, but otherwise finished out the shutout without much drama.
Team USA had a couple of early losses in this tournament and came close to getting eliminated in the first round with a loss to Colombia. Instead, they won three straight elimination games against three of the best countries in the sport: The Dominican Republic, Japan and Puerto Rico. It was a deserved win.
While the result of this game wasn’t in doubt over the final three innings, it was still a great game with passion and terrific performances. I’ll have more to say about the WBC in the days ahead, but no matter who won this game tonight, the real winner was the sport of baseball. I wish we could have had a closer final tonight, but the 2017 WBC is going to leave memories that will last a long time.
Congratulations to Team USA. Congratulations to Puerto Rico. Congratulations to Japan, the Netherlands, the Dominican Republic, Israel and all the rest of the teams. You put on a great show and you did your respective nations proud.