What a great couple of games the WBC served up last night!
Cuba’s victory over Venezuela was a surprise. In the first couple of innings, the body language of the Cubans betrayed how much they had been affected by their “mercy kill” defeat by Puerto Rico in their previous game. Johan Santana was probably the last person they would have wanted to face in this position, but they were able to bide their time until Santana reached his pitch limit, and then jumped on Carrara in the sixth inning. They could take this approach thanks to a solid start by Marti, and then five Major League quality innings by Pedro Lazo.
The commentators debated whether Cuba were right to keep Lazo in the game, knowing that once he had reached fifty pitches he would be ineligible to pitch again until the semi-finals (if they get there). I guess we will have to wait and see. My feeling during the game was that they knew he was pitching brilliantly, and they wanted to stay with the hot hand. Maybe they still would have closed the game out with other pitchers. But I don’t think they could take that risk. Following their previous humiliation, blowing the lead against Venezuela would have completely finished them. At least this way they have one win to cheer, whatever happens in their next two games. And when the person cheering loudest in the dugout is Fidel Castro’s son, that counts for a lot!
Straight after this match I was able to switch over to a game I had been looking forward to as soon as the tournament structure was announced. Although the U.S. took a narrow victory thanks to a game-winning single in the ninth by A-Rod, I was very impressed by the Japanese team. Their defense in particular was excellent. It was a well-balanced, hard fought match-up and calling Japan the “loser” at the end of the contest is extremely harsh on them.
Both games were full of passion (both on and off the field) and they were played with play-off intensity in a play-off atmosphere (as noted by the likes of Jeter and Chipper Jones).
What I loved most about these two games was the way in which they showed how important single moments can be in baseball.
Omar Vizquel has been a fielding magician at short stop for years. Unfortunately for Venezuela, his amazing “vanishing ball” trick played a part in Cuba taking a commanding lead in the game (and possibly started a national investigation in to alleged “Velcro” shortages!). When Lazo followed this up by getting three outs with the bases loaded, you just knew that Cuba’s momentum would see them home.
As for Japan vs. U.S.A, talk about umpire controversy! It doesn’t matter what sport it is, the officials always find a way to get themselves involved. In my opinion, Japan can be justified in feeling hard done by. If the home plate umpire was completely certain that Nishioka had left third base too early, then he had no choice but to overrule the original decision. Judging by the television footage, there was no way he could definitely tell. America deserved their victory because they still had to take advantage of the bit of luck that went their way. But it was undoubtedly a game changing moment. And in the WBC, game changing moments have a world wide impact.
Oh, and as I’m writing this post, I’m keeping a check on Cuba versus the Dominican Republic. How can people complain about this?! Just sit back and enjoy some quality baseball.