Two months ago, we did not even know if Cuba would be able to play in the inaugural World Baseball Classic, as permission was initially denied by the State Department. Putting politics aside, there is no question that from a competitive standpoint they belong, advancing to the finals Monday by doing to the Dominican Republic what they did Wednesday night to Puerto Rico — beating a team 3-1 that had handled them easily in the preceding round. And they did it with something old and something new — Pedro Lazo
( 350K), the 32-year-old veteran of three Olympics and several World Championships, and Yadel Marti, the young right-hander who has yet to give up an earned run in the tournament. The Dominican team, winners of each of its two earlier rounds, squandered chance after chance and had the heart of its lineup up twice with multiple runners on base but could only score one run off the two Cuban pitchers. The two-run margin of victory seemed luxurious, since each of the four games that allowed the four semifinalists to advance were one-run games (Korea/Japan; U.S./Mexico; D.R./Venezuela; Cuba/Puerto Rico).
My mistake yesterday. I should have reread my manual on the way out to San Diego. The rules called for six umpires for the semifinals and finals so there were six umpires working both games today, and the games seemed to be decided without any serious controversy. Another fact I did not know until I attended the umpire briefing this afternoon: The games in this final round are played to conclusion. There can be no tie. But — if, in the opinion of the Technical Committee on hand, the pitching staffs of both teams are depleted due to a very long extra-inning game — the Committee could suspend the game to be completed tomorrow when the pitchers become eligible to pitch again. Given that the teams each only had one or two pitchers unavailable today and tonight, that would have required a game probably more than 20 innings so it is not a rule that would ever be likely to be invoked.
Tonight we had the first decisive win in what seems like a week. Contrary to the song lyrics, tonight in the seventh inning in Southern California it rained — runs for Japan ( 350K) and drops on the field and on fans. Until then, it had been a great defensive struggle with neither team mustering up much offense. At the end of the day, Korea could not pull the hat-trick and beat Japan three straight times. Korea had a great tournament and cleary is a force in international baseball. And its fans tonight were terrific. Most of the stadium was decked out in Korean gear and they cheered every pitch and play even when their heroes went down, 5-0. They even cheered throughout a 45-minute rain delay in the eighth inning and right until the last out of the game.
The Padres have been great hosts. Owner John Moores, club president Sandy Alderson, **** Freeman, Jeff Overton, Richard Andersen and countless others have interrupted their Spring Training and season preparation and put on a great show — even with the rain. Commissioner Selig was on hand today, along with a gaggle of Club owners and officials — I saw Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino of the Red Sox, Vince Naimoli of the Devil Rays, Eddie Einhorn of the World Series champion White Sox, and there may have been others. Don Fehr of the MLBPA is here for the weekend as is Mayor Anthony Williams of Washington and his wife. What has been done with Petco Park and the surrounding area is a perfect model for the Anacostia area in D.C. The ballpark is the centerpiece of massive vibrant commercial and residential growth and urban rejuvenation.
Had fun at the Habitat for Humanity event this morning. I can’t say my carpentry skills have improved with age. San Diego Mayor Sanders (pictured) was on hand, along with Alderson from the Padres, and Bob Tjosvold from sponsor Bank of America — which has been such a terrific supporter of Baseball throughout the country, and so generous in the community helping with so many events like the Habitat event today. I also had the privilege of meeting Chris Clarke, a senior vice president from Habitat from Humanity, who has been so helpful to us since MLB’s project inception in Houston last July, and Cheryl Keenan, the San Diego executive director for Habitat for Humanity.
So it is two teams largely unknown to U.S. fans before this event that are in the first World Baseball Classic finals. Both are very disciplined, execute every phase of the game well, and have gotten good pitching in every game that mattered. I think Japan will win a low-scoring game, but I thought the Dominican Republic would make the finals so . . . let’s see what happens Monday night. Tune in — it will be fun.