One swing to rule them all?
One swing was all that represented the Yankees in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, but oh what a sweet swing it was. After sending a litany of Hall-of-Famers and Hall-of-Very-Gooders to the first two World Baseball Classics, the departures of Derek Jeter and Alex Rodríguez from the international stage left a dearth of Bronx residents suiting up for their home countries in 2013. Mark Teixeira was supposed to join Team USA but batting practice gone awry changed those plans (and the final years of his career). Thus, the only returnee at the Major League level was Robinson Canó.
Canó was truly at the height of his powers entering the 2013 Classic. The previous year had brought career-highs in a wealth of offensive categories, seeing him slash .313/.379/.550 with 33 homers, a 149 wRC+, and 8.4 rWAR, second-best in the league. With three consecutive All-Star appearances and top-six MVP finishes under his belt, he was firmly in the conversation for “best player in the game, non-Trout/Miggy division.”
La República Dominica entered the 2013 Classic with a chip on their shoulder following a shocking exit at the hands of the Dutch in the 2009 tournament. Canó didn’t make much of an impact in that brief stretch, but he wasted no time making up for it four years later. Coming to bat in the three-hole against Anibal Sánchez and Venezuela with the first two hitters of the tournament having already reached base, Canó sliced a double down the left field line to open the scoring and set the pace for the following three weeks.
Canó ultimately plated three of the DR’s nine runs that game, a solid display of not-being-there-to-****-around against a Venezuelan squad with nine solid MLB players in its lineup.
In fact, Canó and the DR had an easier time with Venezuela’s fully-stocked roster than they did with a Spain squad quite light on MLB talent. In his second contest of the spring, Canó was once again a pest in the middle of the lineup for opposing pitchers, going 3-for-5 for a second consecutive game, collecting another RBI along the way in a 6-3 win sparked by a combined seven innings of one-run ball from Samuel Deduno and Alfredo Simón.
It’s worth remembering some of the circumstances under which Canó was entering his hotly-anticipated contract year. Not only was he set to be the top hitter on the market by a longshot, he was also in the unique position of testing the financial mettle of new shot-caller Hal Steinbrenner as the first homegrown Yankees superstar to approach free agency since George’s passing in 2010. Entering the 2013 season, the ball was in Canó’s court.
Their 2-0 start had already assured the DR a spot in the second round, but a subsequent win against Puerto Rico would secure a Group B victory and higher seeding. Canó had no intention whatsoever of stepping out of the spotlight, delivering his third consecutive 3-for-5 day, this one including his first longball of the tournament, a crucial opposite-field stinger that tied the game at two in the fifth inning.
Mind you, this was after his roped single up the middle in the first inning had already set the table for their first run of the day.
That’s 9-for-15 to start the tournament, for those tracking at home. It’s such classic Canó, too. There’s just not a single place over the plate where you can pitch him without getting burned. Work him away with the fastball and he’ll smoke doubles down the opposite line. Try to work him high in the zone and his crazy-fast-and-smooth hands have no issues getting on plane to shoot it back up the middle, or at least finding enough barrel to bloop it where fielders aren’t. Miss over the plate with soft stuff, and he can still take it out of the park even if he doesn’t get to it until it’s deep in the zone. And he could still turn-and-burn as well as anyone in baseball, like he did here against Italy in the first game of the next round:
That was just one of — wait for it — three hits that day for the Yankees second baseman, an effort that may have saved the eventual champions from being sent to the loser’s bracket in yet another stunner. It should also be noted that while Canó was the only Yankees big leaguer to take the world stage that season, the win did include an appearance from switch-pitching farmhand Pat Venditte, who took the loss for Italy.
Amazingly, despite the competition level, that might not have even been one of Canó’s two best four-game stretches within a six-month period: He had also rung up 12 hits over his final four games of the 2012 campaign, including four doubles and three dingers. Then, less than a month after the WBC concluded, he would open the 2013 MLB season with 11 hits over a four-game stretch from April 8th to 13th, also launching three homers and four doubles in that run.
It’s hard for anyone’s bat to stay that inhumanly hot, and Canó’s was no exception: He’d land just three hits, all singles, in his subsequent 15 at-bats as the DR cruised along to complete the WBC’s first (and as of now, only) ever undefeated title run. Even in that reduced state, his threatening aura was enough to palpably impact the game, drawing two bases on balls in a semifinal grudge match against the Netherlands and reaching base via intentional walk in the *checks notes* first inning of the championship round against Puerto Rico.
Even with those muted last few games, his 15 hits were a WBC record (since broken by Wladimir Balentien), and his overall .469/.514/.781 at the heart of an undefeated team were easily enough to take home MVP honors. Though he won’t be representing the Yankees or any other major league club, he’ll be joining Nelson Cruz next month as the only holdovers from that championship squad to take up the mantle for the DR in 2023. If he does anything in the same area code as what he managed to do at his 2013 peak, he’ll probably be representing yet another team sooner rather than later.