Archive for March, 2006

World Baseball Classic a major hit

Believe it or not, World Baseball Classic is a Major Hit!

Cuban players in those lucky red uniforms sprinted to the mound for an exhilarating embrace. A South Korean band pounded drums right outside the ballpark. Dominican fans danced to a merengue beat, the Venezuelans draped themselves in bright yellow flags.

All the chants, cheers and national pride provided exactly the kind of international spirit Bud Selig envisioned all along for the World Baseball Classic.

Fans stayed up late to watch on television, even after the star-laden squads from the United States and Dominican Republic made early exits. Supporters remained in the seats at Petco Park – where a sign in left-center reads “America’s Pastime” – to wait out a 45-minute rain delay Saturday night and watch Japan eliminate its previously unbeaten rival, South Korea.

The Classic captured attention in the midst of NCAA March Madness, and that’s saying something.

One thing is clear: The interest is there. Moises Alou, a 39-year-old outfielder for the San Francisco Giants, said he heard from several of his countrymen who wished they had joined him on the Dominican team and plan to play three years from now.

Ken Griffey Jr. rejoined the Cincinnati Reds on Monday in Sarasota, Fla., wishing he and the U.S. team were still alive in the WBC. “The guys who showed up were awesome,” Griffey said. “Not just for me to be out there with my dad and my son but just for the guys to represent their country. It says a lot for everyone there.”

“Apart from the Olympics, I really wanted this WBC tournament to be the event that decides the true world champions, so that’s why I participated,” Ichiro Suzuki said through a translator after emerging from the fray of Japan’s bubbly celebration. “This is probably the biggest moment of my baseball career.”

“It’s not an ideal thing for a player to think, but I really didn’t care if I would get injured in this game. That’s how much I really wanted to win this one. That’s how we were driven to this championship,” Suzuki said.

“Last night was a good example of what this thing is all about — the reaction of the people,” U.S. Baseball Hall of Fame inductee and former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda said. “That’s what made this thing a tremendous success. “Look, there’s two teams playing, and I think only one (MLB) player among them, maybe two. Still, there were 42,000 fans, and the excitement wasn’t the fact that they maybe just had tickets and had to go, but the excitement was already there. That’s the way it’s been.”

San Diego Padres catcher Mike Piazza left his new club because he was eager to play for Italy in the WBC. “This was an honor for me,” he said. “We didn’t make this decision lightly, this was something very special for us to play for the country of our fathers and mothers and forefathers and foremothers, and again, that’s something we really take seriously. We believe baseball can continue to grow in Italy.”

And, Selig hopes, in places such as Australia, South Africa, and the Netherlands, too.

Sure, more and better talented players could have shown an interest in playing for the U.S. team in the inaugural World Baseball Classic. Sure, the tournament could have been played at a more convenient time of the year, say, in November. And, sure, there’s a lot of hand-wringing over the Americans’ early exit from the tournament.

But CHAZ SCOGGINS of Lowell Sun is looking at the bigger picture here. And the bigger picture is that it’s wonderful to see baseball being played at such a high level in so many different countries in the world these days.

Once again, competition is good for the game. Any game.

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Baseball wins the World!

Nineteen days ago, when the inaugural World Baseball Classic began in Tokyo, no one knew what to expect. Right now, most nay-sayers had disappeared, some no doubt wondering how they could have been so wrong about an event.

“There was a time when people said there won’t be a next time,” said Gene Orza, chief operation officer of the Major League Baseball Players Association. “Now, it’s a given. There will be a tournament in 2009. And that’s a tribute to the tournament and how it has been conducted.”

It was noted that major-league baseball had only scant representation in the championship game, with two big-leaguers on Japan’s squad: outfielder Ichiro Suzuki (Seattle Mariners) and reliever Akinori Otsuka (Texas Rangers). The hitters, in particular, complained that they weren’t ready to face top-flight pitching during what normally would be the middle of spring training for them.

“You know who ended up winning? Baseball did, sports did, sportsmanship did,” said Cuban manager Higinio Velez. “We have to do this more frequently; we have to show the quality of the game, the passion that is put into the game. We have to forget about the millions (of dollars), like the players did, forget about what they make and play with their hearts and hands like they did for this tournament, forgetting about their problems and just concentrating on the game. They played because of the challenge.”

Before the first pitch of the WBC finals between Cuba and Japan on Monday, executives from Major League Baseball and the players’ association declared it a resounding success and began what is sure to be a long post-tournament discussion about tweaking the format.

Commissioner Bud Selig said he believed the tournament exceeded expectations in terms of interest and intensity from players and fans. “I’m thrilled, I really am,” he said. “When you do something for the first time, it’s not going to be perfect. We’ll tinker with it,” he said. “But I think for the most part, everybody really got it right.”

For Cuba, even without Championship, is a bigger winner. Thanks to the diligent lobbying effort of Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig and players association head Don Fehr and the Puerto Rican Federation’s promise to bail out as a first- and second-round host if Cuba wasn’t included in the WBC, Cuba ultimately was allowed to participate.

Baseball, not politics, won out. Selig and Fehr deserve tremendous credit for their vision and commitment to expand baseball throughout the world. Even while losing to Japan in the finals on Monday, Cuba showed it definitely belongs among the world’s elite baseball teams.

Selig’s WBC had folks talking about baseball at a time when March Madness has the supreme hold on America’s attention. The ratings in America weren’t off the chart, but check out the ratings in Japan and Latin America.

Latinos showed up in droves in Puerto Rico and San Diego to support their Cuban brothers. Soccer still reigns throughout Latin America, but baseball is second in the region as a whole and No. 1 in places such as the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Cuba and Puerto Rico.

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Matsuzaka is MVP

Image hosting by PhotobucketJapanese starter Daisuke Matsuzaka, who gained the victory by giving up only one run in four innings while striking out five, was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. He finished 3-0, 1.38 in three WBC starts–getting three of Japan’s five total WBC wins–by also defeating Chinese Taipei and Mexico in earlier rounds.

“It was my first experience to pitch in a game with the world championship on the line,” said Matsuzaka, who is interested in jumping to the major leagues as early as next season. “I was going to feel a lot of pressure as this is something you can not purchase. But I did not feel much of it once I got up on the mound.”

“It’s No. 1. It’s amazing. We’re champions,” said tournament MVP Daisuke Matsuzaka, Japan’s starting pitcher who’s hoping he caught the attention of some major league scouts.

“I knew by rule that [Shunsuke] Watanabe was available, but when [Oh] selected me as the starting pitcher, that really fired me up,” he said.

The adrenaline flowed so freely that Matsuka threw more heat than even Oh anticipated. “He was throwing his pitches harder than ever in first four innings,” Oh said after the 10-6 victory over Cuba. “That was something I haven’t really seen in the past.”

The extra effort Matsuzaka put into the game led to an earlier than expected departure. There is a 95-pitch limit in the final round of the tournament, but the starter threw just 62 pitches — 43 for strikes.

“I never thought about a pitch count or anything,” Matsuzaka said, “so from the beginning, I was throwing the hardest pitches possible. This was the first time for me to face the Cuba team since the Athens Olympics (in 2004), but they always have these intimidating hitters.”

Matsuzaka said fear of the Cuba lineup never entered his mind and his game plan was to challenge the fastball-hitting team with fastballs.

According to ESPN’s Jim Caple: The The next great Japanese import, no matter how great Matsuzaka is in Japan and in World Baseball Classic, he will try his best to Major League soon.

“I believe that Major League Baseball is the best league in the whole world, and I would like to see what I could do in that league,” Matsuzaka said after Japan beat Cuba 10-6 on Monday night. “That’s what I have in my mind.”

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World Baseball Classic All-Tournament Team

Ichiro - City
Like every international tournament, World Baseball Classic has it’s own All-Tournament Team, and six of the 12 players were played in Championship game at PETCO Park.

The all-tournament team, whose name probably should be changed to all-world, honored the best of the inaugural World Baseball Classic. It was an event that drew 737,112 spectators and was covered by 5,354 media outlets.

Sixteen countries and nine languages were represented, and at seven different venues and three rounds, one champion was finally decided.

Below is the All-Tournament Team:
C Tomoya Satozaki, Japan .409, 1 HR, 5 RBI
1B Seung Yeop Lee, Korea .333, 5 HR, 10 RBI
2B Yulieski Gourriel, Cuba .303, 2 HR, 6 RBI
SS Derek Jeter, United States .450, 9 hits
3B Adrian Beltre, Dominican Republic .300, 4 HR, 9 RBI
OF Ken Griffey Jr., United States .524, 3 HR, 10 RBI
OF Jong Beom Lee, Korea .400, 6 2B, 10 hits
OF Ichiro Suzuki, Japan .364, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 4 SB
DH Yoandy Garlobo, Cuba .480, 1 HR, 4 RBI
P Yadel Marti, Cuba 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 12.2 IP, 2 SV, 11 K
P Daisuke Matsuzaka, Japan 3-0, 1.88 ERA, 10 K
P Chan Ho Park, Korea 0.00 ERA, 10 IP, 3 SV, 8 K

Japan is WBC Champion.

It’s Japan, not Cuba, not USA, not Dominican Republic, not Venezuela, not Puerto Rico, not Korea, become the inaugural winner of World Baseball Classic.

Japan 10, Cuba 6

JAPAN           - 400 020 004   --  10
CUBA            - 100 002 021   --   6

No matter what the final score read when those tiny yellow bulbs high above left field stopped blinking, Cuba’s unforgettable and historic ride through the World Baseball Classic came to a memorable ending Monday night at PETCO Park. As expected. Even in defeat. Japan took advantage of an early lead and never looked back, paving the way for a 10-6 victory in front of 42,696 in the tournament’s championship game.

Baseball fans around the globe have long been clamoring for an authentic world champion. Finally they have one. Japan is the winner of the inaugural World Baseball Classic. And now, baseball is not only spoken here, it is spoken everywhere. The Japanese put the crowning touch on the 17-day tournament that was played in Tokyo, Arizona, Florida, Puerto Rico and Southern California with the climax coming on Monday night at PETCO Park.

Japan vs. Cuba in WBC Final

After 16 teams fight for 38 games, only Japan and Cuba left, and the winner will be the first championship for World Baseball Classic.

Cuba 3, Dominican Republic 1

CUBA            - 000 000 300   --   3
DOMINICAN REP   - 000 001 000   --   1

Behind an offense of players known primarily only in their native land, Cuba stunned a Dominican Republic squad made up of some of the most famous players in the world, 3-1, in the first game of the semifinals at PETCO Park on Saturday afternoon.

The Cuban National team is accustomed to winning. After all, this club is 22-2 in international play, dating back to 2001. First, it beat Venezuela. Next was Puerto Rico. And now, the Dominican Republic — which arguably was its best win, ever. Cuba silenced a ferocious lineup in front of a sellout crowd of 41,268 and a nationally televised audience of millions, and did it on U.S. soil, a rarity in its rich baseball history.

Japan 6, Korea 0

JAPAN           - 000 000 510   --   6
KOREA           - 000 000 000   --   0

Kosuke Fukudome came off the bench with one out in the seventh inning and poled a two-run pinch-hit homer into the right-field seats at PETCO Park off Kim, the beleaguered Byung-Hyun Kim. And suddenly, the Japanese are on their way to the World Baseball Classic finals and a matchup against Cuba for the inaugural championship on Monday at 9 p.m. ET.

After holding the opposition to eight runs in its first 60 innings during the World Baseball Classic, Korea succumbed to a five-run barrage in the seventh inning and dropped a rain-interrupted 6-0 decision to Japan before 42,639 at PETCO Park. The loss ended Korea’s six-game winning streak, and kept it from playing Cuba in Monday night’s championship game.

Mexico regenve, Japan in semifinal!

No one can expect this; Mexico’s 2-1 victory to USA let Japan to join Korea, Cuba and the Dominican Republic at San Diego’s PETCO Park for the semifinals.

Pool 1:
Mexico 2, United States 1

USA             - 000 100 000   --   1
MEXICO          - 001 010 00x   --   2

The bell tolled for Team USA on Thursday night at Angel Stadium, ending the Americans’ quest to win the championship of the inaugural World Baseball Classic. Even with Roger Clemens starting perhaps the last game of his illustrious career, one of the greatest assemblages of U.S.-born players ever bowed to archrival Mexico in the final game of the second round and was eliminated from the tournament.

Playing solely for national pride, Team Mexico got two RBIs from Jorge Cantu and a brilliant night out of its bullpen on the way to a tense 2-1 victory in the second-round finale for both teams in front of 38,264 fans at Angel Stadium. Lefty starter Oliver Perez and seven relievers held Team USA to three hits as Mexico improved to 3-3 for the tournament — and eliminated its rivals to the north from title contention while avenging a 2-0 loss in the first round in the process.

Cuba in, USA still alive!

Cuba maintain their tradition, to become the second team in final four, and Korea still unbeaten, defeat Japan twice in 10 days to be the third team advanced into semifinal. As for USA, they still got a chance to play another games by winning Mexico tomorrow.

Pool 1:
Korea 2, Japan 1

KOREA           - 000 000 020   --   2
JAPAN           - 000 000 001   --   1

Before Wednesday night’s high-stakes matchup between Korea and Japan in Round 2 of the World Baseball Classic, a techno version of Bryan Adams’ “Heaven” blared through the speakers. After getting a clutch two-run double in the eighth inning from Jong Beom Lee and an equally clutch relief performance from righty Seung Hwan Oh on the way to a 2-1 victory in a beautifully pitched game Wednesday night at Angel Stadium, Korea’s unbeaten (6-0) squad celebrated as if it had indeed moved on to a glorious baseball afterlife.

Go Mexico! That is the only rallying cry remaining for Team Japan in the World Baseball Classic after it dropped to Korea in a classic game played before 39,679 at Angel Stadium. It comes down to this for manager Sadaharu Oh’s team: Root, root, root for Mexico. If the United States wins the final quarterfinal game here, it’s all over for Japan, and the team would return home wondering what might have happened if the offense had a little more punch in the middle of its lineup.

Pool 2:
Cuba 4, Puerto Rico 3

CUBA            - 100 300 000   --   4
PUERTO RICO     - 100 000 200   --   3

Garbed in its traditional uniform — red pants and predominately red jersey — for the first time in World Baseball Classic play, Cuba went out of its way to save its best for last. Cuba manager Higinio Velez was not around to see it all, but he probably would have liked what his red machine did Wednesday night. In fact, he would have loved it.

Puerto Rico may have been bounced from the inaugural World Baseball Classic on Wednesday, but it certainly went down swinging. Bernie Williams hit a leadoff home run, but one of Puerto Rico’s other superstars, Ivan Rodriguez, was thrown out at home plate trying to score the tying run in an electrifying 4-3 loss to Cuba, which advanced to the tournament’s semifinals in San Diego.

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Dominican Republic in Final Four! Japan still has hope!

By defeated the Venezuela, Dominican Republic become the first team in Final Four of World Baseball Classic, and after winning against Mexico, Japan still have hope to advance.

Pool 1:
Japan 6, Mexico 1

JAPAN           - 000 410 001   --   6
MEXICO          - 000 000 010   --   1

It probably was more important than ever for Japan to get off to a good start in its World Baseball Classic game against Mexico. An early toe-stubbing could have further demoralized a team that already spent too many hours down in the dumps following a disputed loss to Team USA on Sunday. Well, a splendid effort by right-handed starter Daisuke Matsuzaka, and a four-run fourth inning, provided just the tonic Japan needed to climb back into Classic semifinals picture as it notched a 6-1 victory before 16,591 at Angel Stadium.

Mexico’s hopes of advancing to the semifinals of the inaugural World Baseball Classic were left hanging by the thinnest of threads at Angel Stadium with a loss to Japan. Team Mexico, 0-2 in pool play here, needs Korea (2-0) to beat Japan (1-1) on Wednesday. Then comes the hard part. Mexico would have to defeat the United States, 1-0, in 14 innings on Thursday to advance via the tiebreaker based on total runs allowed divided by innings played on defense.

Pool 2:
Dominican Republic 2, Venezuela 1

VENEZUELA       - 000 001 000   --   1
DOMINICAN REP   - 100 000 10x   --   2

Kelvim Escobar peered in at Albert Pujols in the bottom of the seventh inning at Hiram Bithorn Stadium, and knew that Venezuela’s fate in this World Baseball Classic was likely riding on this one exchange with perhaps the finest right-handed hitter in the world. The bases were loaded, and there were two outs in a 1-1 game.

As he unleashed a fastball on the outer half of the plate, Escobar was prepared for just about anything that came his way. Except, that is, for the ball slipping off the glove of catcher Ramon Hernandez for a costly passed ball that snapped the tie, and ultimately led to the most crushing of defeats to the Dominican Republic.

In any language, the noisy celebration and party for La Republicana Dominicana is on, and its headed to Southern California. In front of a boisterous crowd of headband-wearing, flag-waving and country-loving baseball aficionados from all over the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic edged Venezuela, 2-1, to become the first team to qualify for the World Baseball Classic semifinals in San Diego.

USA lost again, Pool 2 restarted

Believe it or not, Korea defeated USA and remains to be the only unbeaten team. As for Pool 2, all four teams has one win and one lost, need to use the last two games to decide who will be advanced to final four.

Pool 1:
Korea 7, United States 3

USA             - 001 000 002   --   3
KOREA           - 201 301 00x   --   7

The only unbeaten team in the World Baseball Classic powered its way to another victory Monday night as surprisingly adept-at-everything Korea defeated Team USA, 7-3, before 21,288 at Angel Stadium. First baseman Seung-Yeop Lee hit another home run, his fifth of the tournament, Hee-Seop Choi slugged his first — in a pinch-hit role — and the Korea pitching staff stymied the best lineup it has seen so far in the 16-team tournament as Korea improved to 2-0 in Round 2 and 5-0 overall.

For the second consecutive time in this inaugural World Baseball Classic, Team USA lost the middle of the three games in round-robin pool play to put itself in serious danger of being eliminated from the tournament. This time it was the streaking Koreans, who thumped the U.S., but this time the Americans must defeat Mexico on Thursday to stay alive, not South Africa.

Pool 2:
Dominican Republic 7, Cuba 3

DOMINICAN REP   - 004 111 000   --   7
CUBA            - 000 000 102   --   3

The California dreaming continues for the Dominican Republic. Odalis Perez was stellar on the mound, the Dominican Republic offense was explosive at the plate and if there were any remaining doubts, the scoreboard at Hiram Bithorn Stadium said it all.

The Cubans suffered another rare and disappointing loss on Monday, and afterward were not particularly interested in talking about it. A day after an inspired win over Venezuela to open Round 2 of the World Baseball Classic, Cuba could not overcome its own mistakes and dropped a 7-3 decision to the Dominican Republic.

Venezuela 6, Puerto Rico 0

VENEZUELA       - 000 020 040   --   6
PUERTO RICO     - 000 000 000   --   0

Puerto Rico starter Joel Pineiro was effective, but his effort was not enough Monday night as Puerto Rico was defeated, 6-0, by Venezuela in the second game of the second round for both clubs.

The ball was still in flight, soaring through the air of Hiram Bithorn Stadium. Victor Martinez stood there for a few seconds and watched, taking in one of the finest moments of his young career. And before the grand slam had even landed in the last row of the right-field bleachers, the entire Venezuelan team had bounced out of the dugout to make sure it was in proper position to mob him.

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