It took four tournaments, but Team USA finally reigns in the sport long called its national pastime.
Marcus Stroman didn’t allow a hit until the seventh inning, and Ian Kinsler’s two-run home run highlighted the Americans’ 8-0 win over Puerto Rico Wednesday to claim their first World Baseball Classic championship.
At the trophy presentation, Stroman was named World Baseball Classic MVP. He allowed just four runs in 15 1⁄3 innings over three starts, two of which came against Puerto Rico, and another against the Dominican Republic.
Puerto Rico entered the deciding game undefeated in the tournament, including a 6-5 win over Stroman and the US. However, its explosive offense never got any traction against the US staff, and the American bats relentlessly added on runs throughout the game.
Kinsler, Andrew McCutchen and Brandon Crawford drove in two runs each, and five American hitters had two-hit games.
Puerto Rican starter Seth Lugo was charged with four runs in four-plus innings despite seven strikeouts. Angel Pagan had two of Puerto Rico’s three hits.
Last Friday, Stroman was shelled by Puerto Rico to the tune of six straight hits to start the game, and Team USA trailed 4-0 after one inning. The championship game would be much different. He needed just nine pitches to record three ground outs to cruise through the first.
All of Stroman’s innings would unfold in a similar fashion. Carlos Beltran walked to lead off the second, but Molina grounded into a double play. In the third, Puerto Rico actually hit a couple balls in the air, but they didn’t result in hits. The last six outs he recorded in the game were all on the ground.
After getting a runner on in each of the first two innings, Team USA broke through in the third inning. Jonathan Lucroy led off with a single, but he was nearly picked off first base. Fortunately for the Americans, he dove back safely, and Kinsler then hit his two-run homer to left-center field for a 2-0 US lead.
Kinsler was instrumental in Team USA’s next rally in the fifth. He led off with a single and scored on Christian Yellich’s single, which ended Lugo’s night. Joe Jimenez got an out at third on a poor bunt attempt by Nolan Arenado, but he was picked up by his teammates. Eric Hosmer hustled down the line to beat out a potential double-play ball, and that set up McCutchen’s infield single to score Yellich.
Pagan finally broke up Stroman’s no-hit bid with a double to lead off the seventh and finally ended his night. In six-plus scoreless innings, he struck out three, allowed just one hit, and walked only one batter. Sam Dyson retired all three batters he faced to strand Pagan.
Arenado, who was batting just .115 through the tournament’s first seven games, helped the US tack on runs late in the game. He started a two-out rally in the seventh with a single, and Crawford drove in a pair of insurance runs with a single. Giancarlo Stanton’s RBI hit off Hiram Burgos put the Americans up 7-0.
An inning later, Arenado started another two-out rally and scored on a McCutchen infield hit.
Pat Neshek pitched a scoreless eighth, and David Robertson shut the door in the ninth to start the celebration.
The victory must have felt especially sweet for Hosmer, Jones, Lucroy, Stanton, and Luke Gregerson, who all played on a prior American team which failed to live up to lofty expectations. Off the field, Joe Torre built the successful squad after managing the team in 2013. Manager Jim Leyland, who retired after the 2013 season, returned to the dugout to lead the winning team.
In the opposite dugout, the defeat was especially difficult. Puerto Rico reached the final only to lose in consecutive appearances. Manager Edwin Rodriguez was at the helm in both tournaments, and nine players, including veterans Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina, played in both tournaments.
However, Puerto Rico has a bright future ahead of them. Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor and Javier Baez make up one of the youngest, and most talented, infielders in the world. Edwin Diaz and Joe Jimenez are going to shorten games at the back of the bullpen. The Rays’ own Jose De Leon, along with Jose Berrios and Jorge Lopez, could help form a rotation.