LOS ANGELES – It will take time to determine whether the United States’ first World Baseball Classic title was the spark needed to ignite greater interest in the tournament in the nation from which baseball originated, and, most importantly, from its biggest stars.
Those answers will have to wait for another day. This night was about a long-awaited celebration.
Marcus Stroman took a no-hitter into the seventh, Ian Kinsler got an unrelenting lineup started with a two-run homer in the third, and the United States captured its first World Baseball Classic title with an 8-0 rout of Puerto Rico in the final at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday night.
“For the most part, up until this point, the other countries were probably into this event a little bit more than the United States,” said U.S. manager Jim Leyland. “But in talking to our players, I know they’re going to spread the word. I’ve had some players already tell me this is the greatest experience of their life.
“So hopefully, we can get guys to play. But we had the right players. We had players that wanted to be here and that’s the kind of players you want.”
The confetti had barely stopped falling when Stroman declared he would be back in four years to help defend the crown. The performance of the Toronto Blue Jays pitcher was a huge reason the U.S. won it in the first place.
“I love pitching in these moments,” Stroman said. “I love the atmosphere. I feel like the bigger the game, the more I’m able to get up, the more effective I am. I truly try to pride myself on being a big-game pitcher.”
Stroman, born to an American father and Puerto Rican mother, didn’t allow a hit until Angel Pagan doubled to lead off the bottom of the seventh. He struck out three and walked a batter in six-plus innings in the win.
He made the most of a second chance against Puerto Rico, after allowing four runs in a loss in the teams’ previous meeting March 18. Stroman only needed 73 pitches on Wednesday to hold down the Puerto Ricans, who came into the game having scored a WBC-best 55 runs.
“Stroman was unbelievable,” Leyland said. “I probably should’ve taken him out and not started that inning with him, when the guy hit that long double. He had a long (sixth) inning. I kind of second-guessed myself a little bit. But I wanted to give him a chance because his ball was sinking so good, there were so many ground ball outs, and I felt like he deserved a chance.”
Kinsler drove in the first two runs of the game with a two-run homer in the third. Christian Yelich and Andrew McCutchen hit RBI singles in the fifth to make the score 4-0.
The Americans blew the game open in the seventh with a two-run single by Brandon Crawford and an RBI hit by Giancarlo Stanton. McCutchen tacked on the last run with an RBI single in the eighth.
“I think we just all had a common goal when we came here,” Yelich said. “There was only one thing on our minds, and that was to win this thing, to do whatever we could to win. I think that helped us come together.”
It took four editions of the Classic before the Americans finally got their turn on the podium. The team’s best finish in previous years was a trip to the semifinals in 2009, when it fell against Japan.
“Anything you do, we’re competitors and we want to win,” said infielder Eric Hosmer. “So it’s special to know that we’re the first team for USA to win the World Baseball Classic. We know this is going to go on for a long, long time. So to know that we’re the first team for USA to bring home the gold is a special feeling.”
Puerto Rico had also been chasing a first title and before the game was probably a good bet to claim it. The Puerto Ricans were 7-0 and looked like the best team in the WBC. They’d also beaten the Americans earlier in the tournament and in four of the last five meetings between the teams.
“We played against a great team,” said Puerto Rican manager Edwin Rodriguez. We played the USA team and they’re loaded with All-Star players. They came out today to play. They outpitched us, they outscored us, they outhit us.”
Starter Seth Lugo was the losing pitcher.
Stroman was selected as the WBC MVP. Kodai Senga was Japan’s lone representative on the All-Tournament team. Tokyo Yakult Swallows slugger Wladimir Balentien, who represented the Netherlands, also made the team, as a unanimous selection.
The final was played in front of an announced crowd of 51,565. While the stadium wasn’t filled to capacity, it was full of energy.
Puerto Rican supporters livened up the atmosphere, cheering wildly, repeatedly chanting “Puer-to Ri-co,” and adding a pulsating rhythm to the game as they banged drums, tambourines, woodblocks, and at least one slow cooker.
The American fans, for so long derided for the ambivalence many in the nation have shown toward this event, countered with equally spirited and loud cries of “U-S-A, U-S-A.”
“Other teams played with passion, and their fan bases were behind them,” Yelich said. “The American crowd showed out this year, too.”
The Puerto Ricans may have celebrated a bit prematurely, allegedly having plans for a parade already in the works before the game.
“Yeah, we knew about it,” Yelich said. “It’s not like we really needed any extra motivation for a night like tonight. We wanted that just as bad, even if they had T-shirts and a parade planned for tomorrow, allegedly.”
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