Tournament coverage updates from Fox Sports here.
Read my Conversation with baseball writer Danny Knobler, who has covered several of the WBC tournaments, about how MLB is growing the game.
Go here to read brief accounts of the Pool C Games I went to in Phoenix (scroll down – chronological).
Of course, a tournament this good would always have to come down to those two.
The undefeated Team Japan deservedly won its third WBC title (2006, 2009) and even a solo Schwarbomb off Yu Darvish in the eighth inning could only cut the deficit to a single run as Team USA came up just short.
It was the first time the USA had lost to Japan in the WBC since 2009.
In a pulsating second semi-final in Miami on Monday night, Japan edged Mexico 6-5 after a compelling back-and-forth contest and will face Team USA in tomorrow’s final, setting up an Ohtani vs Trout Angels showdown.
Before each of the WBC games in Phoenix last week, a big-screen message told the crowd not to hold up any political signs. But as expected with such a high-profile game in Miami – the US city with the largest Cuban population – there were protests inside and outside the stadium for Sunday night’s WBC semi-final against Team USA, which marked Cuba’s first game in Miami since 1959.
As for the game itself, there’s no mercy rule by this stage of the tournament, but Cuba nevertheless found themselves well overmatched, as Team USA won 14-2 on a series of big hits including two home runs by Saturday night’s grand slam hero Trea Turner, who now has four dingers in the series.
The only other US player with a multi-homer game in a WBC is Ken Griffey Jr – this year’s hitting coach – who did it in the 2006 series.
Team USA will now defend its title, against the winner of tomorrow’s semi-final between Japan and Mexico, in the final on Tuesday.
Amid the ongoing – at times increasingly nasty – arguments about exactly who’s taking the WBC seriously and why, Team USA pulled out a remarkable 9-7 victory over Venezuela in Miami behind Trea Turner’s go-ahead grand slam in the eighth inning, a shot he described as “the number one home run of my career.”
The win sets up the second semi-final, where the USA will play Cuba on Sunday, with the winner going up against either Japan or Mexico.
But, of course, another reason for complaints…
The first semi-final line-up is set after Mexico came from behind to eliminate Puerto Rico 5-4 this evening and will move on to play Japan on Monday. (Shohei Ohtani and his team dispensed with Italy and their dugout espresso machine yesterday to reach their fifth WBC semi-final. Nearly half of Japan watched on TV.)
Meanwhile the fallout from the Edwin Diaz injury continues, because, well, of course it does.
The quarter-finals and potential semi-final match-ups are set, but everything on the last day of qualifying seemed like an anticlimax last night amid the wait to discover the extent of the injury to the Mets pitcher Edwin Diaz, who damaged a knee celebrating Puerto Rico’s victory over the Dominican Republic.
Update: Diaz tore the patellar tendon in his right knee. He will need surgery and is expected to miss the season.
Social media reaction, as expected, polarised fans’ opinion over whether such a “fluke” injury could have happened in regular Spring Training – it couldn’t, since there would be no similar celebrations – or whether it meant the intensity of WBC’s knockout format somehow was responsible – again, not necessarily; but there certainly seem some questions to answer around what seemed to be an absence of medical staff at the field.
It seems that if you were against the idea of the tournament and growing the game globally to begin with, this will give your argument ammunition, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t legitimate concerns to address about protecting high-value MLB players who choose to take part to a similar standard that they might expect during Spring Training.
Here are a couple of threads that reflect the positions:
Today is the last day of Pool qualifying play in both Miami and Phoenix. with plenty of exciting issues to be resolved.
In Pool C, the winner of Mexico and Canada will advance, while the USA will join them if they beat Colombia. (Should Colombia win, there would be a three-way tie for second place).
In Pool D, Venezuela have already qualified, and the winner of Puerto Rico vs Dominican Republic will also go to the QF stage.
Pools A and B have already been decided, with Cuba and Italy emerging from A via tiebreakers after all five teams finished 2-2 and Japan going undefeated in Pool B, followed by 3-1 Australia.
With two of the four Pools completed, here’s which teams have qualified for the knockout stage.
The remaining Pools in Miami and Phoenix finish up with two last pairs of games on March 14 and 15, before the quarter-finals run 15-18; the semi-finals 19 and 20; and the final in Miami on March 21.
In another mercy rule outcome in Pool D’s final day, Puerto Rico’s pitching staff combined for the first “perfect game” in WBC history, defeating Israel 10-0.
Meanwhile, here’s how a young pitcher’s story is supposed to go…
A fascinating end to Pool A, with early pace-setters the Netherlands surprisingly losing their last two games to Taipei and Italy. It ended up with all five teams having a 2-2 record, while Italy’s 7-1 win over the Netherlands meant they advance on the tiebreaker because of their margin of victory.
In Pool B, meanwhile, Japan – perhaps unsurprisingly – went undefeated and are joined in the knockout stage for the first time by Australia, who beat the borderline heroic group of electricians and teachers from the Czech Republic in their final game.
Korea, meanwhile, set a record for number of runs in a game beating China 22-2. .
As many smart pundits had been saying in the run-up to the WBC, Japan are more than just Shohei Ohtani and while his profile is inevitably the focal point for selling the tournament at home and abroad, the strength of the Japanese roster is becoming clearer as we get further into the pool games.
Twenty-one year-old Roki Sasaki may be just as much a phenomenon as his better-known teammate, putting up some incredible numbers for Chiba Lotte Marines in the Japanese League, including last year flirting with two consecutive perfect games.
On Saturday morning, the 12th anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the country, Sasaki – who lost his father and grandparents in the tragedy – started the victory against the Czech Republic that put Japan on the brink of a quarter-final spot.
But there was also plenty of love for his opposing pitcher, electrician Ondrej Satoria, whose pitch speed makes him pretty much the Anti-Sasaki…
Big wins for Italy and the Czech Republic overnight (I’m still getting used to the timezone shift and the rolling nature of the game start times), while Ohtani – as expected – put on a Sho (with a little help from new Japanese hero Lars Nootbar) to see Japan take their opener 8-1 over China.
and of course…
It’s been quite an opening for what’s been described as the “most important WBC yet.”
Later today, Shohei Ohtani takes the mound for Japan’s first game, against China in the Tokyo Dome. First pitch is at 5am ET.
As warmup games wrap up in Arizona and Florida, Mike Trout and Team USA lost 5-1 to the San Francisco Giants. Here’s the other results:
The tournament is officially under way, with the Netherlands beating Cuba 4-2 in last night’s opening game in Taiwan between the two favourites in Pool A.
It’s now just a few days until tournament play begins. The squads not based in the US begin warm-up games against local teams tomorrow, followed by those based in Florida and Arizona on Wednesday and Thursday, before the tournament’s first competitive game, in Pool A between Cuba and The Netherlands in Taipei at noon local time on March 8 (10pm CT on March 7 in the US).
A full schedule of game dates and local start times is here and here’s a graphic showing all the games and their start times in US Central Time:
One of the interesting storylines once the tournament starts up is going to be seeing how the “first-time” qualifiers get on. You can’t help but root for the – seemingly – hopelessly outgunned underdogs who are consistently ranked in the oddsmakers’ “no-hope” categories. But if determination, heart and national pride are any measure, they’re all already winners.
This is a great piece by Michael Clair on the Czech team…
Leo Morganstern looks at Nicaragua…
And Jon Morosi talks about what awaits Team GB…
This will undoubtedly be a big miss. It’s to do with insurance coverage, reportedly, due to his injury history.
Maybe the best thing about the Super Bowl is that no matter who wins, the next day is the de facto beginning of the baseball season, and with Pitchers and Catchers committed to playing in the WBC arriving at camps today, it feels like everyone can’t wait to get started.
But after a brilliantly entertaining game last night, some thoughts turned to exactly how much the winning QB and NFL MVP might have taken after his dad.
MLB announced its picks for the potential best player at each position among those committed to playing in the tournament. A pretty impressive line-up. The full rosters for each team are here.
This time next month, the World Baseball Classic will be under way at four sites – two in the US – Miami and Phoenix – as well as in Taiwan and Tokyo; from where the four group pools of five qualified teams will decide eight to progress to the quarterfinals.
The semifinals and final will be held in Miami, with it all wrapping up with the championship game on March 21.
As part of Major League Baseball’s global expansion program, the first tournament was in 2006. The WBC last took place in 2017, with the USA beating Puerto Rico in the final at Dodger Stadium, and generated record-breaking crowds and TV audiences. But after an enforced two-year delay due to Covid, the hype already seems to be even more intense for this year’s contest.
There are already some really interesting storylines shaping up, and I’m excited to be heading to Phoenix next month to see the games in Pool C, featuring the USA, Mexico, Canada and Colombia, as well as a Great Britain team making its first-ever appearance at this stage of the tournament.
For me, the developing globalisation of the game is totally fascinating; as is the parallel relationship between baseball and immigration – something I hope to explore over the next few weeks.
Feb 9th 2023:
I became a US citizen 12 years ago today. I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who has helped me along our shared road. This part of my identity means the world to me, and is something I will always cherish. The swearing-in ceremony in Brooklyn, with a few hundred of my fellow new Americans was far more moving than I was expecting.
The front few rows were reserved for military personnel, most of them in uniform, and their families, and when we collectively stood to take the Pledge of Allegiance it felt like whatever our differences, whatever our individual stories and why we had ended up there, we had, I believe, the same overriding sense of what it was we were becoming part of.
The letter we all received from then-President Barack Obama – along with a pocket sized edition of the US Constitution – described perfectly the place of this moment in the story of the country.
As we filed out, there were tables set up outside the chamber where we could register to vote and indicate our other allegiance – to one or other political party, or none. To me, that seemed natural and perfectly prioritised. We all want the society we’re part of to progress and succeed and be a better place to live; we may have different priorities on how to realise that aspiration and it’s right that there is a mechanism for articulating those preferences within established and mutually-respected parameters.
Sadly, though, that’s one of the things that some people – who knows, even some who stood alongside me and recited the pledge that day – may have lost sight of, to the detriment of all of us.