Yesterday wrapped up the final games in pool play of the World Baseball Classic with the United State, Puerto Rico, and Mexico all punching their tickets to the quarterfinals. There were five games to recap so let’s jump right into the action.
Quarterfinal One: Australia (2-3) 3, Cuba (3-2) 4
With a hard-fought win over Australia, Cuba become the first team to punch their ticket to the semifinals. Australia were certainly one of the surprises of pool play, advancing out of the group ahead of the more heavily favored Korea squad, however their tournament comes to an end that they can be more than proud of.
The Roos actually opened the scoring in the top of the second with Rixon Wingrove’s RBI single, but Yoán Moncada responded an inning later with an RBI double to knot the score at one. This opened the door for Cuba to hang a crooked number in the bottom of the fifth that would prove the difference-maker in the contest.
Roel Santos led off with a single followed by a Moncada walk and Luis Robert Jr. hit-by-pitch to load the bases. Alfredo Despaigne grabbed his team the lead with a sac fly followed by an Erisbel Arruebarrena single to re-load the bases for Yoelkis Guibert. The lefty right fielder smacked a groundball single through the right side to plate a pair and hand his team a healthier lead, 4-1.
Australia still had plenty of fight in them, immediately answering Cuba’s three-run fifth with a crooked number of their own in the top half of the next inning. Aaron Whitefield led off with a single allowing Wingrove to continue supplying all of his team’s offense in the form of a two-run home run. The comeback attempt would fall a run short however, as Cuba hold on to win, 4-3.
Pool D: Venezuela (4-0) 5, Israel (1-3) 1
This game was all about Eugenio Suárez. The Mariners’ third baseman put his team on his back, almost single-handedly winning the game with a three-hit, three-RBI day.
When Jose Altuve walked and Anthony Santander singled leadoff the top of the first, already one began to wonder how many they might score. A Gleyber Torres GIDP threatened to dash those chances, but Venezuela rallied with two outs to grab something from the inning. Salvador Perez reached on a HBP, Ronald Acuña Jr. drove Altuve home from third with a single, and an Andrés Giménez single loaded the bases for Suárez, who came through with a two-run single to hang three runs in the opening frame. Suárez was far from finished in the contest, leading off the sixth with a home run before capping off the performance with a loud single in the eighth.
Marlins pitcher Jesús Luzardo tallied four scoreless innings with five strikeouts while Eduardo Escobar clobbered a solo shot with two outs in the fourth.
With the uncomplicated 5-1 win over Israel, Venezuela joins Japan as the only two teams to go undefeated in pool play — all the more impressive considering they did so to sweep the “group of death.” They advance to quarterfinal three to face the United States, who finished as Pool C runners-up.
Pool C: Mexico (3-1) 10, Canada (2-2) 3
If the previous game was the Eugenio Suárez show, this one certainly deserves to be dubbed the Randy Arozarena game. The Rays outfielder put on a hitting clinic, driving in five runs on a pair of doubles and a pair of HBPs, one with the bases loaded. Today brings his tally up to nine RBI for the tournament — the most ever by a Mexican player in a single tournament and three off the record set by the Netherlands’ Wladimir Balentien in 2017.
It was always going to be a stern test for the Canadians facing Astros starter José Urquidy. However, with Freddie Freeman’s withdrawal from the tournament due to a hamstring injury and Josh Naylor’s unavailability while he recovers from his own injury, our northern neighbors were robbed of what little pop there might’ve been in the lineup. They did manage to score three in the contest, starting with Otto Lopez’s bases-loaded single in the first followed by solo home runs from Bo Naylor and Edouard Julien in the fourth and seventh respectively.
Even though Mexico jumped out to an early 3-1 lead, Canada managed to keep the game close through the first five innings ... that is, until they were forced to plumb the depths of their bullpen. As my colleague and unfortunate Canadian Josh put it in the PSA Slack: “This entire tourny [sic] really is about pitching depth. When your third/fourth arms can’t find the zone... ZOINKS.” They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here’s a pair of them to illustrate his point.
The wheels really came off in the sixth inning, as Mexico scored four highlighted by a bases-clearing double from Arozarena. They’d score another pair in the seventh and a final run in the eighth on a Rowdy Tellez leadoff bomb — part of his 2-for-3, three RBI night — to dominate the contest, 10-3. With the win, Mexico top the pool and will face Puerto Rico in quarterfinal four.
Pool D: Puerto Rico (3-1) 5, Dominican Republic (2-2) 2
The matchup that everyone had circled on their calendars certainly lived up to the billing. A sudden-death showdown between arguably the two favorites of the tournament to decide who escapes the group and whose tournament ends is exactly what you would want from the final day of pool play.
Team DR had Johnny Cueto on the mound and unfortunately he looked every bit a 37 year old in the final act of his career. He surrendered three of the four runs Puerto Rico scored in the third inning — a deficit the Dominican Republic never looked likely to overcome. Christian Vázquez led off the frame with a homer, followed by four straight singles from Vimael Machin, Martín Maldonado, Francisco Lindor, and Enrique Hernández.
All of a sudden the Dominican Republic found themselves at the bottom of a 4-0 hole. Juan Soto did his part to drag his team back into the contest, leading off the bottom of the third with a mammoth 448-foot home run. Following an uneventful fourth inning, Lindor provided the highlight of the game, lining a single to center that ended with him crossing home Little League home run style.
The Dominican Republic clawed another run back on a run-scoring GIDP by Manny Machado in the fifth, but were otherwise stymied by a parade of Puerto Rican relievers. Following a campaign when he set the record for highest strikeout rate in a single season (50.2 percent), Edwin Díaz was exactly the man Puerto Rico wanted to close out the game, and he did so in emphatic fashion striking out the side. However, he appeared to injury his knee while celebrating on the field postgame and had to be helped off in a wheelchair.
Given how stacked their lineup was, it must be said that the Dominican Republic are the disappointment of the tournament so far. To score two or fewer runs in two out of four pool games is not what you’d hope for out of an offense with All-Stars and former Rookies of the Year from top to bottom. Puerto Rico, on the other hand, did well to escape the group of death and will face Mexico in quarterfinal four.
Pool C: United States (3-1) 3, Colombia (1-3) 2
Needing a win to guarantee a spot in the quarterfinals, the United States eked out a victory on the back of heroics from Mike Trout. Because of the befuddling tiebreaker rules about which I have neither patience nor understanding to explain, there were quite a range of scenarios where either the US, Canada, or Colombia would advance out of the pool alongside Mexico.
I even made a graph!https://t.co/055adxvqnA pic.twitter.com/JKIvlgx99I— Michael Baumann (@MichaelBaumann) March 15, 2023
In a theme that would repeat itself throughout the contest, Trout got things started with a one-out triple in the top of the first, but neither Paul Goldschmidt nor Nolan Arenado could drive him home. Team USA opened the scoring in the third, with Mookie Betts reaching on a two-out with a single. Again Trout came to the plate, and after Betts stole second, Trout grounded a single up the middle to plate his fellow former MVP.
Colombia responded immediately in the bottom-half against USA starter Merrill Kelly, who had navigated around a bases-loaded jam an inning prior. He was not so lucky in the third, surrendering a pair of runs on a leadoff Oscar Mercado double, Gio Urshela sac fly, Jorge Alfaro single and Reynaldo Rodriguez RBI double. Just like that the D’back starter’s night was over.
After a quiet fourth, the United States answered with a decisive two-run fifth inning that would propel the team to the quarterfinals. Will Smith led off with a walk, advancing to third on a Betts single that the outfielder threw home, allowing Betts to move up to second. Up stepped Trout yet again with men in scoring position, and yet again he provided the goods. He stayed back on a curveball, lining it to left to plate both runners and allow the United States to reclaim the lead, 3-2.
That was all they would need, as Team USA could turn to their stable of high-leverage relievers to protect the narrow lead. That’s exactly what they did, with each of Kendall Graveman, Daniel Bard, David Bednar, Jason Adam, Devin Williams, and Ryan Pressley completing a scoreless inning. The United States finish behind Mexico as runners-up in the pool and will face Venezuela in quarterfinal three.
Today at the WBC:
Italy (Pool A runner-up) vs. Japan (Pool B winner)
Time: 6:00 a.m. EDT
Venue: Tokyo Dome, Japan