I don't really remember having much interest in the first World Baseball Classic as it unfolded in 2006, which might have something to do with the United States being bounced in the first round and my reluctance to root for the abominable Roger Clemens. But this year's competition has already exceeded my expectations. I watched several back-and-forth innings of Saturday's USA-Canada thriller while having a beer with my friends at Uno's, and on Monday night it was a blast to see American players from Chris Iannetta to Kevin Youkilis contributing to an eight-run sixth-inning outburst to pull away from Venezuela.
But the most thrilling game was undoubtedly Tuesday night's elimination game between the Dominican Republic and the Netherlands. The heavily-favored Dominican, stacked with big names like Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz, Miguel Tejada, and Hanley Ramirez, had already been upset once by the Dutch baseballers. In the early going, D.R. starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez was the story, striking out a WBC-record ten batters in four scoreless innings. But the Netherlands players were game, and the teams traded zeroes for ten innings.
In the top of the eleventh, former Oriole outfielder Eugene Kingsale misplayed a Jose Bautista fly ball, allowing Jose Reyes to race around the bases with the go-ahead run. But Kingsale redeemed himself almost instantly. In the bottom of the inning, he tied the game with a single off of Cubs closer Carlos Marmol. Distracted by the outfielder's speed, Marmol threw away a pickoff try, allowing him to race to third. It was unreal to watch the Netherlands players jump to their feet in jubilation, even though Kingsale was only on third and hadn't scored yet. Three batters later, Yurrendell de Caster's two-out grounder deflected off of first baseman Willy Aybar's glove, allowing Eugene to race home with the winning run. His teammates game unglued, as well they should have. They had just singlehandedly brought down a team whose players outpaced them in 2008 Major League Baseball earnings, $83.4 million to $400,000.
Obviously, I hope Team USA beats the Netherlands this weekend. But it's hard to root against a team that has Bert Blyleven as a pitching coach and wears black and orange...
Even if that team includes Sidney Ponson.