Monday, April 17, 2017

Top 10 Moments from the 2017 World Baseball Classic

The fourth annual World Baseball Classic was one for the ages as the United States brought home their first ever championship in the global tournament. With the tournament's prospects only growing after another successful year, I wanted to take a look back at some of the great moments that the WBC gave us in the month of March.

So without further adeiu, here are my Top 10 moments from the 2017 World Baseball Classic. But first, here are the honorable mentions!

Honorable Mention: Javy Baez's Swim Move Slide, Manny Machado's Throw, Giancarlo Stanton's Line Drive Home Run

10) Italy's Ninth Inning Comeback
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In the opening game of Pool D action in Jalisco, Mexico, Italy was trailing Mexico 9-5 entering the ninth inning. All hope seemed bleak for Italy as they had not scored since the fifth inning. To make matters worse, Roberto Osuna -who had 56 saves in his two-year major league career thus far- was in to shut the door for Mexico.

Francisco Cervelli got things rolling for Italy with a leadoff double to left field. Sebastian Poma entered the game to run for Cervelli, and he came in to score on a Chris Colabello double to left field. It was now 9-6 Mexico.

Third baseman Alex Liddi then hit the third double of the inning to plate Colabello and make it 9-7. After a meeting on the mound for Mexico, Drew Butera hit a grounder that shortstop that Luis Alfonso Cruz misplayed. Butera advanced to third and Italy had runners on the corners and still nobody out.

Pinch hitter Drew Maggi worked a walk to load the bases, and now the winning run was on first base. After another mound visit, Osuna was pulled for the veteran left-hander Oliver Perez. On a 1-2 count, leadoff man Brandon Nimmo hit a line drive that went in and out of right fielder Alex Verdugo's glove. Butera came across to score and it was now 9-8 with still nobody out.

The stage was now set for Cubs prospect John Adreoli. On a 1-1 count, he hit a hard ground ball that went off the glove of second baseman Luis Urias to score both Butera and Maggi for the game-winning single. Italy had won 10-9 and absolutely shocked Mexico.

Although Italy would not get past the first round of pool play, their win ultimately prevented Mexico from advancing to the second round.

9) Israel Wins Pool A in WBC Debut
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In their first ever appearance in the World Baseball Classic, Israel jumped out to a hot start as they won their first four games. They swept through Pool A in Seoul, South Korea, by scores of 2-1 over South Korea in ten innings, 15-7 over Chinese Tapei, and 4-2 over an eventual semifinalist in the Netherlands.

In second round action in Tokyo, Israel kept to their winning ways as they defeated Cuba 4-1. Unfortunatley, the mojo would run out for this dark horse teams as the Netherlands routed them 12-2 in seven innings and Japan defeated them 8-3 to seal their fate. Regardless, it was still an incredible run from a team whose most prominent player was 38-year old pitcher Jason Marquis.

8) Javy Baez's No-Look Tag
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In the second round out in San Diego, the Dominicans put their 11-game winning streak to the test against a Puerto Rican team they defeated for the WBC title just four years ago.

With two outs in the eighth inning and Puerto Rico leading 3-1, Nelson Cruz tried to steal second base on the arm of future Hall of Famer Yadier Molina. The 34-year old catcher did not hesitate and fired a bullet down to second base.

Covering the steal, the flamboyant Javy Baez reached second base and pointed at Molina to congratulate him before the ball arrived. When he caught it, the 24-year old second baseman put a no-look tag on Cruz for the final out of the frame. It was an incredible play that summed up the attitude and swagger that Team Puerto Rico played with.

The score would hold and Puerto Rico would win the game 3-1. The Dominican Republic's winning streak had finally seen its end.

7) Wladimir Balentien Has a Day
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In the second round in Tokyo, the Netherlands were in a de facto elimination game against a Cuban team that had lost both of their games in this stage of the tournament. Having just smoked Israel 12-2 the previous night, the offense carried over as the Netherlands blasted Cuba 14-1 in seven innings.

Within that blowout, former major league Wladimir Balentien put on a show. The 32-year old went 3-4 with two home runs, three runs scored, and five RBI's. His effort along with four RBI's from Yurendell DeCaster and three hits from Jurickson Profar helped propel the Netherlands to their second consecutive WBC Semifinals.

6) Jose Bautista's Game-Saving Throw
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On the final day of pool play in the opening round, Colombia had runners on first and third in the bottom of the ninth with one out and score knotted up at 3-3. A win for the Columbians would automatically put them in the second round and severely hurt the Dominicans' shot at a repeat.

With Reynaldo Rodriguez up to bat, the 30-year old minor leaguer hit a 1-2 pitch to left field for what looked like a possible game-winning sacrifice fly. As pinch runner Oscar Mercado tagged up and dashed towards home, All-Star outfielder Jose Bautista caught the ball and threw a rocket to the plate.

The throw reached catcher Wellington Castillo right as Mercado came sliding in and the result was an inning-ending double play! Mercado did not even touch the plate and if anything he slid right into Castillo's tag! This incredible play kept the Dominicans alive and allowed them to get to the 11th inning, where runners were put on first and second base with no outs to start the frame.

The Dominicans would use this to their advantage as they scored seven times in the 11th to win the game 10-3 and eliminate Colombia from the tournament.

5) USA Walks Off in WBC Opener
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In the opening game of the tournament for both squads, the USA and first-timer Colombia squared off in an instant classic. It was mainly a pitcher's duel as Colombia had just five hits and the USA had six. The USA's final base knock, though, would be the one that mattered.

In the bottom of the tenth inning with the scored tied at 2-2, Daniel Murphy led off with a fly out to left fielder. Then, pinch hitter Christian Yelich and nine-hole hitter Brandon Crawford drew back-to-back walks to put the winning run on second base with one out in the inning. An Ian Kinsler groundout would move them up to second and third, leaving the USA a single away from victory.

Up to bat was five-time All Star Adam Jones, who quickly fell behind in the count 0-2. The 31-year old did not concede, however, as he smacked a hit in the gap to plate Yelich and walk it off for Team USA! This would not be the last of Jones's heroics in the WBC.

4) USA Advances to First Ever WBC Final
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In just their second ever semifinals appearance, the USA was pitted against the formidable Japan. They had lost to Team Japan in the 2009 semis, so eight years later the Americans repaid the favor. In a low-scoring affair, Adam Jones again played the hero as he plated the go-ahead run with a groundout in the eighth inning.

Now up 2-1, the USA bullpen worked past a leadoff single and sacrifice bunt in the eighth inning to work a scoreless frame. In the ninth, Luke Gregerson was perfect as he used two groundouts and a strikeout to send the United States to their first ever WBC Final.

3) Puerto Rico Walks Off into WBC Final
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Back in the semifinals for the second consecutive WBC, Team Puerto Rico was locked in a tight one with the Netherlands. This game would need extra innings with the score 3-3, thus invoking the runners on first and second rule.

In the top of the 11th, the Netherlands bunted their two runners over before an intentional walk loaded the bases. With the eight-hole due up, designated hitter Curt Smith jumped on the first pitch he saw and grounded into a double play to end the inning. Puerto Rico had an opportune chance to walk it off now.

In the bottom half of the 11th, Yadier Molina bunted the runners over and Javy Baez was walked to load the bases with one out. With a chance to be the hero, 25-year old Eddy Rosario did not hesitate as he jumped on the first pitch and hit a fly ball to center field.

It would be deep enough to score Carlos Correa, who came racing home to score the game-winning run. For the second straight year, Puerto Rico was going to the WBC Finals!

2) Adam Jones Robs Manny Machado
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The most impressive play of the entire WBC in my opinion occurred during the elimination game between the United States and Dominican Republic in the second round. With the USA up 4-2 in the bottom of the seventh inning, 24-year old Manny Machado hit a shot to center field. From the look of his walk out of the box, Machado knew ball was out.

Adam Jones, a teammate of Machado's on the Baltimore Orioles, tracked the ball and lea\pt at the wall in center field to rob the home run and record a long out number one. In disbelief, Machado could do nothing else but tip his hat to his teammate for making such an incredible catch. Jones returned the gesture with a hat tip of his own.

This play would turn out to be huge as Robinson Cano went yard in the very next at-bat to cut the lead to 4-3. A two-run eighth would give the USA a 6-3 cushion and they went on to eliminate the Dominicans to advance to their second ever WBC semifinals.

1) USA Wins It All
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Coming in at No. 1 on my list is the USA completing the journey for their first ever WBC title. In my predictions for this year's tournament, I had picked the USA to win it all. So to see them actually get to the championship and shut out a sizzling hot Puerto Rican team was bitter sweet for a Puerto Rican-American like myself.

It was great to see my home country -which I love to death- win and prove me right. On the other hand, it was tough to watch Puerto Rico finish runner-up in back-to-back World Baseball Classics. For the actual game though, this one was a laugher. Marcus Stroman bounced back from his first poor start against Puerto Rico and had a no-hitter through six innings.

After allowing a leadoff double to Angel Pagan in the seventh, Stroman was pulled with the USA up 7-0. He finished with three strikeouts and just one walk in a 75-pitch outing. His efforts would win him MVP honors of the 2017 WBC.

After Stroman's departure, the trio of Sam Dyson, Pat Neshek, and David Robertson would each get three of the final nine outs as the USA comfortably won the title by a score of 8-0.

Ian Kinsler, Christian Yelich, Nolan Arenado, Andrew McCutchen, and Giancarlo Stanton all had multiple hits in the game. Kinsler went 2-5 with a home run, two runs scored, two RBI's, and a walk. Yelich went 2-5 with a double, a run scored, and an RBI. Arenado went 2-5 with two runs scored.

McCutchen went 2-4 with a run scored, two RBI's, and a walk. Rounding out the quintet, Big G went 2-5 with a double and an RBI.

Among the USA players with one hit, Brandon Crawford went 1-5 with an RBI single that extended the lead to 7-0 in the seventh.

This win in my opinion has opened the floodgates for Team USA in future World Baseball Classics. With the Red, White, and Blue going the distance, more marquee players may feel enticed to join and take part in what truly is a unique experience.

Final Thoughts
I hope you enjoyed this Top 10 list! I look forward to see what the World Baseball Classic brings when 2021 rolls around (I'll be in my final semester of law school then)! Until then, stay tuned for my weekly articles on the Gator baseball team as they prepare to take on North Florida this upcoming Tuesday and No. 11 South Carolina this weekend.



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