Tuesday, March 28, 2017

USA Baseball: Team Eagle has Finally Landed

From the desk of:  PLANET BASEBALL

2 0 1 7

United States   8
Puerto Rico     0

Stars and Stripes Stumble Out of Starting Block, But Finish With a Flourish; Claim First Ever World Baseball Classic Title.

Just think - one lapse in concentration, a bad hop, a wild pitch, just one misplay, and The Eagle might have never landed on the pitcher's mound at Dodger Stadium.

Had USA fallen to Colombia in their very first match of the World Baseball Classic - against which they needed ten innings before finally emerging victorious - we might not even be having this discussion.

That's because America's Nine suffered a demoralizing loss during their very next game against Dominican Republic in which they blew a sixth inning, 5-0 lead, en route to a 7-5 loss.  However, Stars-n-Stripes rebounded smartly, closing out Round One with an 8-0 trouncing of Canada.

The Dominican Republic posted a 3-0 record in Pool-C play, whereas Team USA with a 2-1 record might have arguably benefited from a weak field.

Team USA easily handled Venezuela's all-star line-up opening Round Two of pool play.  But then suffered their second (and final) setback of the Classic, losing a hotly contested match against Puerto Rico by a 6-5 final, in which they stranded the tying run in the top of the ninth on third base.

USA continued forward, though, gaining a measure of revenge during their rematch against the defending WBC champions with a 6-3 victory over Dominican Republic, and thus securing themselves a Third Round appearance among the WBC's final four.

The highly anticipated semi-final game against undefeated Japan featured a classic pitchers duel - with every pun intended. Starting for USA, Tanner Roark threw four innings of scoreless baseball, allowing but two hits.  Six relievers followed, combining to limit Japan's potent line-up to a lone run on just two more hits.

Giving credit where it's due, Japan starter was no less up to the task, pitching six strong innings, while allowing USA one run on three hits and a walk, with six strikeouts.

With one out in the top of the eighth, Adam Jones' fielder's choice scored shortstop Brandon Crawford from third giving USA their slim, but final 2-1 margin of victory.

What USA then accomplished in the WBC final game against formidable and likewise undefeated Puerto Rico went far beyond expectations.  Team Borinquen entered Wednesday's final having pounded their opposition into submission, easily leading the tournament in runs scored.  But they say good pitching trumps good hitting, and that's exactly what happened.

Team USA starting pitchers performed superbly throughout the entire WBC tournament.  And Wednesday's championship game proved no different.  Making his second appearance of the games, Marcus Stroman whitewashed Puerto Rico through six innings, allowing but one hit and a walk, while fanning three.  In facing 19 batters he threw 77 pitches with 44 going for strikes, while inducing 11 ground balls, and just one fly.

Jim Leyland handed the ball off to relievers Sam Dyson, Pat Neshek, in the seventh and eighth respectively, then to David Robertson for the ninth.  The trio combined for three scoreless innings of two hit ball, with a walk and three more strikeouts.

Offensively, USA saved their best for last, pounding out eight runs, and hitting safely against each of Puerto Rico's eight pitchers.  Puerto Rico previously limited USA to seven hits during their Second Round encounter.  This time around, America's Nine stroked a team high 13 hits, topping their previous high of eleven set against Canada and matched against Venezuela.

Ian Kinsler opened the scoring in the third inning off starter Seth Lugo with a two-run knock to center.  After which USA never looked back, continuing to pile on six more unanswered runs.  USA got two more RBI each from Andrew McCutchen and Brandon Crawford, and single runs batted in from Christian Yelich and (Miami team mate) Giancarlo Stanton.

In all aspects of play, this was by far their finest performance of the tournament.

So now that USA has won one of these, how will this affect local and national fan interest levels moving forward?  And how, if at all, can winning a WBC title help sway America's more elite ball players into participating?

On a Related Note:  Extra! Extra! Forget All About It!

With regard to my particular local tabloids, their coverage of the 2017 World Baseball Classic flat out sucked.  The 2006 and 2009 Classics were treated with back page covers, and full multi page spreads featuring game photography, in depth summaries, accompanying articles, and just about every boxscore of tournament play.  Coverage was dialed back somewhat during the 2013 Classic, but this scrapbook maker nonetheless found the content at least satisfactory.  But no, the effort put forth was not as extensive as that of the previous two Classics.

This year's coverage was virtually non existent.  Not a single back page was given. Most mentions of the Classic were treated as mere afterthoughts.  The championship game only received one lone quarter panel lost among the ads from one tabloid, with no mention anywhere on the back page that a baseball game even took place.

The NYT did a better job.  And the Asian papers did even better prior to Korea's, Taiwan's, and China's respective elimination.  The Oggi Italia was good for two half panels, and the local Mexican tabloid was useful too.  I could always count on USAToday for good coverage.  They started okay, sputtered, then finished strongly.  Lastly, El Diario always does a superior job covering not just the WBC, but the Winter Leagues as well.

But I must say I was once again counting on USAToday for quality scrapbook content, 

Overall, though, the American papers left much for me to be desired.

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