World Baseball Classic Round 2, Day 3
In a game that clearly had the atmosphere of the playoff game that it was from start to finish before a largely pro-Dominican and very noisy crowd of 13,000, the Dominican Republic escaped with a 2-1 victory over Venezuela tonight and became the first semifinalist in the first World Baseball Classic. Manager Manny Acta, along with Albert Pujols, Miguel Tejada, Bartolo Colon, Moises Alou, David Ortiz and Adrian Beltre, are on their way to San Diego.
By about the seventh inning, people started to inquire about what would happen if the game ended in a 1-1 tie after 14 innings. Fortunately, it never came close to that, but if I understand the rules, assuming there was not a tie in the game tomorrow night, it would have come down to batting average in tonight’s game to determine the winner since head-to-head, runs and earned runs would all have been equal. But there were lots of nervous moments to the very end, with Venezuela leaving the bases loaded in the top of the ninth. Dominican pitcher Daniel Cabrera was dominant over the first four innings, allowing no hits and getting readings in the high 90s for his fast ball, and Venezuela continued to have trouble hitting, getting only a single hit off the five Dominican pitchers — a fifth-inning double by Omar Vizquel.
For those who are curious, Hiram Bithorn Stadium is located near the Roberto Clemente Sports City complex in the northern section of San Juan, about 20 minutes from the airport. It holds 19,000 fans and is 325 feet down both lines and 404 feet to dead center field. It was named in 1962 after the first Puerto Rican-born player in the Major Leagues, right-handed pitcher Hiram Bithorn, who played for the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox from 1942-1947. MLB opened its season at Hiram Bithorn in 2001 in a game between the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays, and the Expos of course played 43 games here during the 2003 and 2004 seasons, drawing just under 530,000 fans over that span. During the winter league season, it plays host to the Santurce Crabbers.
They have four numbers retired in the stadium, Bithorn’s (#25), Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente (#21) and Orlando Cepeda (#30), and Puerto Rican great and New York Giants pitcher Ruben Gomez (#22). Gomez was among the league leaders in games started, completed games, shutouts and earned runs allowed several times during his 10-year career. Each night on the Jumbotron here, they show a video tribute to Clemente, and every night his throws from the right-field corner to third base seemingly while off-balance and on the run look more and more incredible.
Everyone is staying in three hotels on Isla Verde, an area about five minutes from the airport. The development and construction going on is impressive. There seems to be a crane on every block. When I used to come here in the late ’70s, there were only two hotels in this area, the El San Juan and a Holiday Inn. The Holiday Inn was shaped like a U, and you could stay facing the courtyard, where a band played each night until 2 a.m., or on the outside, where you heard the planes arrive and depart all night. Now, there must be 20 hotels and as many condominium projects.
Some continuing really good coverage for the Classic:
- For those of you who missed the ESPN SportsNation poll, 70 percent of the respondents indicated that the Classic was "better than they expected" and 82 percent rated it either a "smashing" or "modest" success. Surprisingly to me based on press commentary, almost 50 percent indicated that the current schedule is the best time to hold the tournament, vs. only 30 percent who want it played after the season. And 85 percent either raved about the one-game format or acknowledged it was the only practical way to go.
- Cuban officials told us today that their television ratings for the Cuban games are 90 percent and that workers were given an official holiday for the team’s first game in the tournament.
- Tom Verducci of SI.com wrote a great piece about the event and one paragraph in particular resonated with me and seemed to pick up the thread many of the posters to these blogs have established:
"If you want your millionaire players to dive for pop-ups, run the bases with abandon, watch the entire game like Little Leaguers from the top step of the dugout and play the game for pride and for fun, just like American Legion ball…the (World Baseball Classic) is your ticket to happiness. To a man, the U.S. players have raved about the experience. Chipper Jones, a World Series champion and MVP, called the (Classic) ‘the best baseball experience of my life — bar none’."
Tom also has an interesting comparison between the different styles of the different teams in the tournament, which is worth reading.
While the United States did not play tonight, the outcome of the Japan/Mexico game means they need help to qualify for the semifinals. Again, if my math is right, they either need Korea to beat Japan or Japan to win and score eight runs or more tomorrow and then beat Mexico to advance, in the first instance with Korea and in the second with Japan. There is also a way to advance if the U.S. loses to Mexico and if Korea beats Japan, but the permutations of what happens with three teams at 1-2 I will leave to others. Also, if Japan wins tomorrow, 7-6, in nine innings and the U.S. beats Mexico, the three teams will be 2-1 with each having allowed 10 runs in the games involving the tied teams, so it would go to earned runs allowed. I think that all sorts out, but the best part is that the four teams will likely decide it on the field the next two nights as will Cuba and Puerto Rico in the final decisive game down here.
I am somewhat puzzled by the postings complaining that games have been switched around by ESPN to viewers’ disadvantage. When we signed up with ESPN, we took every available slot they had given the constraints of their existing schedule. All games went on ESPN Desportes, which obviously does not yet have the carriage of the other ESPN networks. Last Sunday, ESPN added a game to ESPN2 to present a triple-header, given the popularity of the games, but did not subtract any games. And, of course, all of the games have been available live via MLB.com, and on XM Radio. I guess it is a good sign that people want to see all of the games and we will certainly take that into account in 2009 in working with our broadcast partners in providing coverage.