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Chen wraps scoreless outing in style for China

Special to MLB.com

TOKYO -- The emotions were still flowing for Bruce Chen, two hours after he left the mound. The text messages were still filling his phone, from halfway around the world.

Chen pitched in 400 Major League games over 17 seasons. He had even pitched in the World Baseball Classic before, for Panama, the land of his birth. But nothing could compare to the eight outs he got Wednesday for China, the land of his ancestors.

TOKYO -- The emotions were still flowing for Bruce Chen, two hours after he left the mound. The text messages were still filling his phone, from halfway around the world.

Chen pitched in 400 Major League games over 17 seasons. He had even pitched in the World Baseball Classic before, for Panama, the land of his birth. But nothing could compare to the eight outs he got Wednesday for China, the land of his ancestors.

:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::

"This experience, I'll never forget," he said. "I'll never forget this game."

Much about the game was forgettable. Cuba went on to beat the overmatched Chinese team, 6-0, to improve to 1-1 in Pool B, and China had just one hit and two baserunners. It was Chen, his 2 2/3 scoreless innings and his emotions that stood out.

"I'm so happy for him," China manager John McLaren said. "I haven't met a more wonderful guy."

That wonderful guy retired as a Major League pitcher almost two full years ago. He works now in the Indians' front office, and many of those text messages he he got after leaving the mound Wednesday originated at the Tribe's Spring Training camp in Goodyear, Ariz.

Chen was happy to hear from everyone, but even happier that his parents and two of his three daughters were able to make the trip to Tokyo to see him pitch (his pregnant wife and 2-year-old daughter were unable to travel).

"It's a tremendous satisfaction," he said.

It even had a dramatic ending.

McLaren decided before the tournament that Chen would throw just 49 pitches against Cuba, because under tournament rules that would allow him to appear again in the first round. The strategy seemed sound for a team with limited pitching depth, but then Chen needed 21 pitches to get through just the first inning.

He was at 43 pitches after two, meaning he could throw just six more pitches while remaining eligible to pitch again. After a leadoff infield hit by Roel Santos, Chen had just three pitches left as Alexander Ayala stepped to the plate.

Chen first tried to pick Santos off first base, then concentrated on retiring Ayala within three pitches. He ended up doing more than that, getting the Cuban shortstop to roll over a 1-1 changeup and ground into a 5-4-3 double play.

The Chinese dugout erupted as if they taken a lead. McLaren said the double play gave his team some momentum.

"It was one of the better moments of the game," McLaren said.

It was a moment Chen will always remember, but as he spoke about it, he was reminded he'll have a chance at more big moments Friday. The Japan team was filing by, and Chen spotted Norichika Aoki, his teammate with the 2014 Royals.

"I'll see you Friday," Chen said.

Friday is China's final scheduled game in WBC 2017, and it's against Japan, live on MLB.TV.

"Japan will see Bruce Chen somewhere in the game," McLaren promised.

McLaren had no second thoughts about the decision to limit Chen to 49 pitches, even though Cuba scored no runs while he was in the game and six runs in the 5 1/3 innings after he left.

"If he could have gone 80 pitches [under tournament rules], I'd have thrown him 80 pitches," McLaren said. "But he was only going to go one more inning [before reaching the 65-pitch first-round limit]. You have to do things like that in the tournament."

McLaren understands he has the least experienced team in Pool B, and that the goal is to grow baseball interest and participation in China. Having Chen on the team could help develop Chinese baseball, but playing for the team has already helped Chen.

"Every experience I had in the Major Leagues was tremendous," he said. "But for me, leading my teammates out there, knowing my parents were watching, there was tremendous satisfaction."

He's 39 years old. He came out of retirement for this tournament and he has already said he's retiring for good when the tournament ends.

He'll leave the game with more memories, memories of eight emotional outs on a day he won't forget.

The World Baseball Classic runs through March 22. In the U.S., games air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. The tournament is being distributed internationally across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for games at Marlins Park, Tokyo Dome, Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Mexico, Petco Park, as well as the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.

Danny Knobler is a contributor to MLB.com.

Cleveland Indians, China