SUNSET BOULEVARD – Hi folks, I’ve been enjoying my semi-retirement but was given reason to dust off my old MTM press credentials this week and head down to Chavez Ravine. Yes, it’s WCC at the WBC again, despite Buddy’s great recap yesterday. Indulge me as I stretch these old writing muscles on another World Baseball Classic piece.
I dug out my inaugural 2006 World Baseball Classic t-shirt and it occurred to me that when I bought it I half expected the novelty would be in that there might not be another… people would look at it the way millennials might look at an Us Festival concert tee. In fact, the 2017 tournament was by most measures the biggest success yet, with stellar play, tight games, and appealing upsets….and this was particularly true for the Americans, who hadn’t found much success over the first three WBCs. When I saw them play Japan in ’09, the only other time the US had made it to the final weekend, it was a cold and blustery night that negated the Americans’ strengths and exposed their weaknesses (that was a particularly burly team of lead footed sluggers).
This year it was nearly as cold (60 is cold for us Angelinos, shut up) but with rain giving way to a steady mist by game time, and expectations were almost as damp as the field…but this US team had a pretty good mojo going this tournament, with a winning combination of timely hitting, surprisingly good pitching, and untimely gaffes by their opponents. Japan, however, always field technical marvels, and this year they hit more home runs than any other team in the field except one…Puerto Rico who, like Japan, had blazed through the tournament undefeated, but with an infectious style and grit that made them the most fun to watch.
So Tuesday was cold and rainy, and for a game where only two runs scored over the first seven innings, it sure seemed to drag. Partly this had to do with all the pitch counts and trips to the mound, and partly it had to do with the umpires making some crappy calls that forced both managers up and out of their dugouts to challenge numerous times. Jim Leyland’s lungs are held together with a plaster of tar and creosote, and running up the dugout steps and onto the field with a slight hunch–he is 72 and three years retired–couldn’t have been easy.
Nevertheless he won each of them, and the U.S. couldn’t afford to give any plays away this night. It came down to slightly bobbled ball, a hard grounder on drawn-in third baseman Nobuhiro Matsuda that was spinning and wet, with Brandon Crawford running on contact sure to be cut down at the plate had it been fielded cleanly (Matsuda still got Adam Jones at first). Would third base coach Willie Randolph take some flack were he thrown out? Did Willie Randolph breathe any easier the next night seeing his old nemesis Yadier Molina back there?
Fortunately for the U.S.A., even Jim Leyland’s encrusted lungs could breathe easier in an anticlimactic climax, and the WBC looks like it’s going to be around for a while. Now when are we going to get some club team tournaments?