USA blanks Puerto Rico to take 2017 WBC title
Marcus Stroman led a spirited, competitive and inspired Team USA as it overcame a talented field of international teams and the do-or-die challenge of tournament play to win its first World Baseball Classic championship with an 8-0 victory over Puerto Rico.
The first three Classics had been won by Japan twice (2006 and 2009) and the Dominican Republic (2013) while the United States, whose roster is filled with Major League Baseball players, had never gotten past the semifinals, but this year’s team grinded its way to the championship game and won despite suffering a loss in both the first and second rounds.
“Obviously, this is our first win,” said Stroman, who was named the tournament MVP. “We've had a few early exits in the past. So each and every guy came into this with one goal, and that was to win it. There was no one that kind of went about it lackadaisical. Everyone was into every single pitch.
“And we had that pride and faith in every single guy on this team, and we kind of formed a camaraderie over the last two weeks extremely quick. We grew as a unit, and it felt by the end of it that we've been playing for a while. So I love these guys. It was an unbelievable experience, and I'll be back in four years to defend the title.”
Christian Yelich, who along with teammates Stroman and Eric Hosmer was named to the all-
tournament team, said the players on Team USA understood the degree of difficulty from the beginning and approached the event with that in mind.
“We knew that going in that we hadn't done great in this tournament, but that's because there are so many good teams,” the young left-fielder said. “Every night was a tough game. There were no easy games in this tournament. Other teams played with passion, and their fan bases were behind them.”
A group of stars playing together for close to three weeks, the USA team players bonded quickly and understood their mission as well as the urgency of tournament play.
“We knew that guys were going to go out there and do our job,” Yelich said. “We were talkingbefore the game that there's no way we lose this. We just couldn't see a scenario where we lost this tournament. All throughout it we were confident, and we just knew that if we went out and did what we had to do, we were going to come out on top.
“The way this team came together and just went out every night and did anything we can to win, it was special to be a part of,” he said. “It was the most fun I've ever had playing baseball.”
Puerto Rico had defeated Team USA and Stroman, 6-5, in a second-round contest in San Diego a week earlier, but following that loss the United States defeated the Dominican Republic and Japan in elimination games to set up the rematch for the championship.
This time, Stroman was all but unhittable, frustrating the Puerto Rico hitters with a heavy dose of sinkers and sliders low in the zone before a raucous crowd of 51,565 at Dodger Stadium whose allegiances were split between the two teams. Team USA was ahead 7-0 before Angel Pagan sliced a double down the left-field line in the bottom of the seventh inning for Puerto Rico’s first hit.
“I love pitching in these moments,” the 5-foot-eight right-hander 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. This was probably one of the biggest if not the biggest game I've ever pitched in.”
Many of the Puerto Rican players had been with the club when it lost to the Dominican Republic in the 2013 WBC championship game and they advanced through this year’s tournament with a daunting combination of skill and swagger, winning style points with their play on the field as well as their bleach-blonde hair.
They were undefeated entering the championship after sweeping pool play in Jalisco, Mexico and San Diego and pulling out a 4-3, 11-inning victory over the Netherlands in its semifinal game on Monday night. But Team USA was at its best in the championship game with Stroman in command and the lineup scoring eight times on 13 hits to put an exclamation mark on the victory.
“They’re loaded with All-Star players. They outpitched us. They outscored us. They outhit us,” Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez said. “We came here to win the championship, but with a record of 7-1, we feel satisfied, pleased with what we were able to achieve.”