The United States will be the new kid on the block in the 2017 final four of the World Baseball Classic. In 2013 Japan, Netherlands and Puerto Rico appeared in the final four with the eventual champions the Dominican Republic. The United States eliminated the defending champions and will join the final four party, facing off against two time champions Japan. A Giancarlo Stanton two run homer in the fourth broke a 2-2 tie and propelled the United States to a 6-3 win.
It didn’t start out well for the United States. It almost reminded the sellout 43,002 in attendance of the game against Puerto Rico when six straight hits to begin the game proved fatal to the United States team. An error by the gold glover shortstop Brandon Crawford got the inning started for the Dominicans. Robinson Cano followed with a double to score Manny Machado. A strikeout of Nelson Cruz got past the catcher to put runners on first and third with one out. Carlos Santana singled to make it 2-0 with Cruz advancing to third. It appeared the United States was on the verge of collapse again, digging themselves a big hole to start the game.
Starling Marte grounded a ball to Barandon Crawford at short. Nelson Cruz broke for home. The throw beat Cruz to the plate and the whole complexion of the game seemed to change after that. Adrian Beltre grounded out and the United States got out of the inning trailing only 2-0.
The Dominicans looked like they were going to score again in the second. Gregory Polanco started the inning with a single. Wellington Castillo followed with a double to put runners on second and third with no outs. Danny Duffy bore down, getting Jose Reyes to pop out. Manny Machado flied out to Adam Jones in center, too shallow to score Polanco (read further to read about a longer fly out hit by Machado to Jones). Robinson Cano hit a hard grounder to Brandon Crawford at short, who made the play to get out of the inning with no runs.
The United States bounced back in the third, Giancarlo Stanton getting the inning started with a single. Jonathan Lucroy moved Stanton to third with a single. Ian Kinsler grounded to short, Reyes going for two but falling short with Stanton scoring on the play. With two outs Christian Yelich laced a double into center to score Kinsler and tie the game 2-2.
The fourth was reserved for the Giancarlo Stanton two out two run homer. Brandon Crawford got the inning started with a two out single. That was it for Ervin Santana, replaced by Hector Neris to get the last out of the inning.
The Dominicans failed at another opportunity to score a run in the fifth. A leadoff single by Manny Machado ended the day for Danny Duffy. A one out double by Nelson Cruz to left field put runners on second and third with just one out. Again the Dominicans failed to score with Pat Neshek getting Carlos Santana to pop out and Starling Marte to strike out.
The Dominicans pulled to within one in the seventh after a Robinson Cano solo homer with one out. Read further for the hit that occurred earlier that created the one out.
The United States took advantage of the wildness of Alex Colome in the eighth. Christian Yelich walked and Eric Hosmer was hit by a pitch. Andrew McCutchen made that wildness pay with a big double into center field to score two runs and give the United States a 6-3 lead.
The Dominicans were deflated after that. The United States retired the Dominicans in order in the eighth and ninth innings to get the victory, Sam Dyson and Luke Gregerson doing the honors. Dyson also got the last two outs of the seventh after the Robinson Cano homer off Tyler Clippard.
Adam Jones perhaps made the catch of a lifetime in the seventh inning prior to the Cano homerun. Jones teammate Manny Machado led off the seventh mashing a ball that appeared to be clearly going over the fence. Jones never gave up racing back, jumping high and reaching his glove over the short fence to rob Machado of a homerun and robbing a fan of a souvenir. The fans erupted in cheers after the catch, many staring in disbelief. All Machado could do is tip his cap to Jones for the catch. He has seen him do that many times before while in an Orioles uniform. This time it was in a uniform that stated “USA”. Tyler Clippard could be seen mouthing from his lips “Oh my God”. It certainly defined what these games are all about. A collection of All Stars or semi All Stars making tremendous plays in the game.
Puerto Rico 13 Venezuela 2
In a game that didn’t mean much since Puerto Rico had clinched their final four advancement and Venezuela was eliminated, Puerto Rico thrashed the Venezuelans with 17 hits. Most of the damage was done in the later innings, when Venezuela went to its thin bullpen. Puerto Rico scored in every inning after the fifth, turning a 2-0 game into a rout.
The still unsigned Angel Pagan racked up three hits from the leadoff spot and Mike Aviles strung together four hits. Kennys Vargas closed out the scoring by slugging a two run homer in the ninth. Jose Deleon worked two outs into the third leaving Venezuela scoreless. Puerto Rico turned to what has turned into a very stingy bullpen to close out the game.
The semifinals begin Monday with the Netherlands doing battle with Puerto Rico. Both teams rely on young infielders to lead their teams. For the Netherlands it is Jonathan Schoop, Xander Bogaerts, Jurickson Profar (playing the outfield), Didi Gregorius and Andrelton Simmons. Puerto Rico relies on Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor and Javier Baez.
On Tuesday the two traditional baseball powers Japan and the United States do battle. Both teams have a solid veteran presence, but Japan has some youth in Tetsuto Yamada and Yoshitomo Tsutsugoh who have carried the team offensively.
The fun that has defined the World Baseball Classic will continue for a few more days.