Just when it would be reasonable to wonder if this World Baseball Classic could deliver anything more in terms of wildly entertaining games and raucous crowds, we have this matchup in star-studded Group F in San Diego: the Dominican Republic vs. Puerto Rico.Remember the last time these teams played? It
Just when it would be reasonable to wonder if this World Baseball Classic could deliver anything more in terms of wildly entertaining games and raucous crowds, we have this matchup in star-studded Group F in San Diego: the Dominican Republic vs. Puerto Rico.
Remember the last time these teams played? It was one of the sweetest World Baseball Classic moments ever, as the Dominicans completed a clean sweep of the 2013 tournament by beating the Puerto Ricans, 3-0, in the championship game.
What really made it special were the 35,703 screaming fans at AT&T Park and another 50,000 or so watching at Estadio Quisqueya in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. In Puerto Rico, almost three-fourths of all households tuned in.
:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::
That enthusiasm is why the best players from these two countries have been so passionate about participating in the Classic. As Dominican second baseman Robinson Cano said, "When you're asked to represent your home country, it's an honor."
Both teams are 3-0 in WBC 2017. Puerto Rico has outscored three opponents, 29-7, with young Cubs second baseman Javier Baez seemingly emerging as a spiritual leader with his playful swagger and .357 batting average.
The Dominicans are 3-0 as well, running their winning streak going back to the 2013 tournament to 11 games, but it has not been easy. They trailed Team USA, 5-0, before rallying to win, 7-5, on Saturday. On Sunday, they needed seven runs in the 10th inning to beat the feisty Colombian squad, 10-3.
Those opening-round games have delivered on almost every level. The crowds have been intense, the games close. After just 26 games, we have had:
• Ten games in which the deciding run was scored in the seventh inning or later
• Five games that went extra innings
• Six games decided by one run, three more by two runs
Beyond that has been the emotion from both players and fans. Players have performed with a certain joy, especially those feeding off the cheers of their country's fans.
This is one of the striking things about the World Baseball Classic: Virtually every player who has participated has called it one of the best things they'd done in baseball.
That was true of Roger Clemens when the event began in 2006 and has extended to the young stars of today -- Francisco Lindor and Carlos Correa, both on the Puerto Rican team, and others.
We've had Italy opening the tournament with five runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat Mexico, 10-9. We've had the Italians and Venezuelans playing a game that featured 21 runs, 29 hits and 17 pitchers.
Venezuela won that one, 11-10, in 10 innings when Martin Prado doubled in Jose Altuve with the winning run. Japan and the Netherlands played a similar game. Japan won, 8-6, in 11 innings in a game that had 27 hits and 16 pitchers.
This Classic has seen Jason Marquis make an impressive comeback at the age of 38. In three starts, he has allowed one earned run in 9 2/3 innings for Israel, one of the surprise teams of WBC '17.
First baseman Ike Davis, trying to make the Dodgers as a non-roster player, surely has opened some eyes with a .647 batting average for Israel. Meanwhile, such players as Didi Gregorius of the Yankees and Andrelton Simmons of the Angels have used the event to get their 2017 seasons off to the right start.
When Mariners manager Scott Servais sent his three biggest stars -- Cano, Nelson Cruz and Felix Hernandez -- off to the Classic, he said the time away might benefit the big league team.
"We'd like to get off to a good start, and maybe the [Classic] will get those competitive juices flowing," Servais said.
Cano is hitting .333, Cruz .417, both for the Dominican Republic. Pitching for Venezuela, Fernandez allowed one earned run in 2 2/3 innings of his only start. Apart from the numbers, all three said representing their country was an honor.
Simply watching the games has been a nice experience, too.
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 Tokyo Dome and 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.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @richardjustice.