World Baseball Classic Round 2, Day 1

San Juan

Well, did I ever get the good draw on weather. Eighty degrees, light breeze and back to beautiful San Juan and Hiram Bithorn Stadium. (Apparently the hats and mittens are out in Anaheim.) The ballpark here looks even better than it did for the Expos’ games two and three years ago, or for the opener in 2001 when Toronto faced Texas. Congratulations to Murray Cook and his staff and the promoter Antonio Munoz and his staff for their terrific work getting everything ready.

Cuba_2Venezuela went into a slump its third game in Orlando, squeezing by Australia by only 2-0. Today they faced the tougher Cuban pitching staff and their hitting woes continued. The game was really decided over a six-out span from the bottom of the fifth to the top of the sixth. Venezuela loaded the bases in the fifth trailing only 1-0. Two weak fly balls and a strikeout later, veteran pitcher Pedro Lazo had worked out of a real jam. A couple of sloppy plays in the top of the sixth and the massive three-run home run by Cepeda followed by the solo shot by Pestano and the game was out of reach instead of only 2-0 as it should have been.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the game was that the crowd of almost 14,000 was evenly split in cheering interest (and flags) between Venezuela and Cuba. After the Venezuelans were all-world in enthusiasm in Orlando, the mixed crowd was a surprise as was the source of all the Cuban support. Thanks to the policy of removing signs from fans as they enter the stadium, there was no signage visable except for seven T-shirted fans who sat down the left-field line and stood anytime Cuba did anything noteworthy on the field and between innings. Their shirts, read left to right with two letters each, spelled Vi-va Cu-ba Li-br-e. They were surrounded by security the entire time and sat when asked. No further commotion ensued. In fact, security is terrific here. It is always present, yet never obtrusive.

Someone posted that we missed an opportunity to make a political statement by not allowing anti-Castro signs and that somehow we had impinged on fans’ free speech rights. I disagree. If we had wanted to make a political statement, Cuba would not have been invited in the first place. The goal was to put the best teams in the world on the field. This is about baseball as it is played around the world, not ideologies. Our tournament rules clearly prohibited flags over a certain size or any offensive or political signs, just as we do in the Major Leagues. We were just applying our rules.

For those who wrote that the U.S. had an easy route to the finals, only A-Rod’s ninth-inning heroics staved off a possible Japan win today. But for the controversial call in the eighth, they might have gone extra innings or Japan might even have won.

PrfansEven a rain shower could not dampen the sold-out crowd’s enthusiasm for the big game tonight between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. One veteran player told Ambassador Lasorda this was the biggest game he had ever played in, including World Series games. While maybe the player was caught up in the excitement of the moment, perhaps that is exactly the point. There was electricity in the air throughout the game and the players clearly are caught up with playing for their countries. The noise of the crowd after Puerto Rico scored three runs each in the sixth and seventh innings was the equal of playoff noise in the Houston or Angels ballparks, with half the number of people in attendance. In the seventh inning, the panderetas came out and a troupe peformed the plena. You would not know Lent was under way since it was truly a carnivale with dancers, costumes, big-headed masks and lots of noise.

The game was well attended. Aldo Notari, president of the International Baseball Federation, was on hand along with Puerto Rico’s Governor Anibal Acevedo Vila and Mayor Santini of San Juan. Javier Vazquez and Bartolo Colon did a great job for the first five innings, each giving up a single run, but the Dominican bullpen could not hang on and Puerto Rico pulled away.

I was thinking the way these teams are playing that it is entirely possible the four teams would be 1-1 after tomorrow. That would in essence set up the last two games in the round-robin as a pair of single-game playoffs to determine which two teams would advance. We’ll see what happens tomorrow.

10 Comments

Wow! Wow wow wow. I really can’t get enough WBC. Seriously. I almost like the short series format–anyone can win. If you had told me that after day one of the second round Cuba and PR would be tied atop the standings and DR and Venezuela would have to play catch up, I probably would have laughed. I’m very interested to see how the DR star studded line up responds to the added pressure of having to win the next two games. We know what the loss to Canada did for the United States…

Speaking of which, the controversial play was too close to call I think, but even if the umpire got it wrong, realistically baseball is full of bad calls and I think it was Mike Scotia who said last year that they are a part of the game and you have to play well enough to overcome them. I’m not saying Japan shouldn’t have been irritated by the call… but lets not forget that in the bottom of the ninth an easy force out at first became the beggining of the rally, capitalized on by A Rod. I feel for the Japaneese team, but every baseball fan knows, bad calls happen.

Also, its a little bizarre that my dad, my brother, my uncle and I, all life long mets fans were jumping up and down and cheering when Chipper Jones hit his homerun. I’m actually a little relieved that for the first time since I’ve been a baseball fan I don’t have to dred what he’s capable of doing at the plate, but can actually look forward to it. Maybe I won’t boo him at Shea when he shows up…then again that might be wishful thinking…

Players seem to be taking this really seriously too! Which I looove seeing. Chipper saying this was bigger than any other baseball experience he’s ever had–even explicitly stating better than a WS win, loss or any all star game just gives me the chills. Derrek Lee’s diving catch for a foul ball and Brad Lidge’s NASTY breaking ball–amazing. The mob around ARod after his game winning hit–no way you’d see ANY of that in some crappy grapefruit league.

I said it once and I’ll say it again. Bravo! I can not WAIT to get home and watch more WBC!! I can only hope that ESPN keeps carrying all the games.

And LETS GO USA!

Dear Bob,

After I watched the replay of that controversial call in the USA-Japan game, I am pretty sure the umpires blew it. It was not even close. However, the key here is not whether the right call was made, but by whom it was made. I cannot think of any international competitions in which the ref came from one of the two participants. When an American umpire made a controversial call favoring the American team, no matter it is justified or not, it does tremendous amount of harm to the credibility of the fairness of the game.

I am not here to blame on anyone. I know that this tournament is the first one and is subject to all kinds of imperfections. However, I do think it is important to use neutral umpires in the future tournament to avoid such controversies from happening again.

Dear Bob,

About the issue of the format of the tournament, I agree with you that USA is not really taking the easy route since Japan, Korea and Mexico were surely all quality teams. However, I do think that the format is kinda unappealing. You might see two teams playing three times before the final. If I have a choice, I would like to see more clashes between the baseball powers, not like now that the Pacific teams won’t meet the Caribean teams until the final.

I understand the current format is due to the consideration that the teams should play at where their most audience comes from. Maybe the organizers underestimated a little bit about the appeal of this tournament. Hopefully, in the future World Baseball Classic we will be able to see a format that enables all the possible matchups. I am pretty sure the game will draw fans no matter where it is played.

Dear Bob,

As a baseball fan, American and Latino, I love the idea of the WBC, but I was ashamed of yesterday’s ruling by the umpire.

Why invite foreign teams to play baseball if all the MLB cares about is having the USA team win to retain US ratings?

Why isn’t there a US manager/liaison to help foreign teams argue with American Umpires?

Why isn’t the umpiring team representative of the teams playing in the tournament?

Had this happened in Japan to a US team we would immediately demand a rematch!!

In fact, the US Olympic team has complained about this type of behaviour in South Korea.And lets not forget the the Russia Ice-skating judge who rigged the matches.

The WBC is a great idea, but ideas and actions are two different things.

If the US teams advances and wins the WBC, will the world want to participate 4 years later? Will anyone in Japan or Korea care about the WBC?

We need to show fairness and decency. One of America’s greatest athletes,golfer Bobby Jones once said ” I only know how to play the game one way.” It is rumored that he lost a tournament for being fair.

Our country is full of teams who have acknowledged a bad call and admitted defeat. The USA team should stand up a continue this great tradition.

What would Bobby Jones think? Or, Roberto Clemente?

The MLB should be careful with their actions in the WBC. Or, the WBC will become just like the college baseball world series— a tournament no one watches or cares about.

That reminds me the March Madness is here… go UCONN!!

Mr. Dupuy – thanks for putting it so well – this is about baseball played internationally, not about ideologies. Maybe next time some fans will turn up in t-shirts reading “vi-va beis-bol li-br-e”! As for that controversial call, like the other poster, I eventually realized that baseball is “full of bad calls” and that’s a legitimate part of the game. It’s too bad there’s an appearance of favoritism in this case, at least to some people, and I’m sure you’ll have more international umpires next time. Also, I am really looking forward to the next US-Japan game, whenever that turns out to be! A classic grudge match if there ever was one. What a roller coaster the Classic has been – what a great game.

Baseball fans in the US are gaining a better understanding of what the game of baseball means to fans outside the United States. Just check out the Dominican team when Big Poppy or Beltre goes deep. You have 20 guys, who are the number one stars on their respective MLB clubs, jumping up and down and cheering like they were 11 years old. You have guys who play for Boston and New York hugging and high fiving each other. It’s quite obvious that these games are clearly more than exhibitions.

If you had an opportunity to watch Team Puerto Rico v. Team Dominican last night, you had an opportunity to see a guy who was given away by Steinbrenner and given up by Arizona, Javier Vazquez. The guy pitched with so much pride and heart last night. And to do it against a line up loaded with All Stars, for 5 full innings, was truly amazing. What a great performance by a tremendous competitor. Think George wants a 2nd chance with Vasquez??

It is great to see all the superstars playing with such passion. These men understand that they are playing for the name on the front of the jersey and not the one on the back.

For those of you who didn’t like the idea of the WBC or thought the timing of it was bad, or just complained b/c complaining is your greatest asset, I am here to tell you that you are wrong. These games DO have meaning, they DO have a purpose and they DO deserve to stay.

Hector

San Francisco, CA

It’s bad enough that the game was tainted with such a bad call. It’s even more disgraceful how both the MLB and WBC web sites try to spin doctor the game as a great victory for the US Team. Come on give me a break. The whole pool arrangement is already a sham and the web sites can’t even report the event objectively. Try looking at how the story was covered by CBS, ESPN, and Fox and see how stupid MLB looks for their version of the game summary. Just a disgrace and embarrassment for the whole tournament. Why bother having the event if it’s going to be that biased. I was a big fan of the WBC and the US team until yesterday. Now I’m actually rooting for the US to get eliminated. Let’s see MLB try to spin doctor that.

I cant get enough of the Classic either, atleast until 10pm tonight when the US plays Korea on the SPANISH ESPN CHANNEL! What?!? I much rather watch that than the game on now, I hope thats some kind of typo, and the US game gets shown on TV. Korea is undefeated in this tournament. They are playing the USA. This should be on TV! Deportes? For an asian nation against us? Uhm, why?

The overturned call- home cooking, rough way to win one, but the US still had the bases juiced with only one out in the ninth. I suppose a 2 out rally wouldve been possible for Japan, but not likely.

I agree with you Eric. Maybe the USA loss to Canada has thrown all the planned broadcast schedule out of shape and the game tonight was predicted to be Japan vs. Mexico. Otherwise it is really hard to explain this. However, I believe they said the games could be flip-flopped due to broadcasting consideration and I do not know why they did not just do that.

the US win over japan was not fair the officials should be neutral.if the US wins this tournament i will never watched this againg. The US was lucky they even made to the second round

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