Between now and the new year, MLB.com will be revisiting the top stories of 2017. We begin with Team USA's dramatic run to the World Baseball Classic title.Adam Jones answered the call for his country, and the World Baseball Classic may never be the same again. Deep into the March night
Between now and the new year, MLB.com will be revisiting the top stories of 2017. We begin with Team USA's dramatic run to the World Baseball Classic title.
Adam Jones answered the call for his country, and the World Baseball Classic may never be the same again.
Deep into the March night at Petco Park, the Orioles' center fielder raced across the center-field grass, leaped high into the air and robbed Manny Machado of a home run, to the delight of many in a raucous crowd of 43,002.
"I'm still in kind of shock that I even got to that ball," Jones said. "I mean, off the bat, I'm just like, 'This ball's hit really far, so just keep going, keep going.' You know this California air's going to slow it down, and just never quit. That's just the style I play with. I don't mind running into a wall or two."
Jones' catch was the key moment in an elimination game in a second-round pool. It helped Team USA eliminate a loaded team from the Dominican Republic, which was trying to defend its 2013 championship, and would emerge as the signature moment in the United States' eventual championship.
Hall of Fame manager Jim Leyland came out of retirement to help end what had been a disappointing run for the Americans in the event. They had been stopped short of the championship round in every previous attempt, but this time they delivered when it counted the most, including an 8-0 victory over Puerto Rico in the championship game at Dodger Stadium.
Leyland had been a bundle of nerves from the start, especially when Team Colombia almost forced the U.S. to play an elimination game against the Dominican Republic in the opening round.
"I've been retired for three years, and I'm going to stay retired," a spent Leyland said afterward. "That I can promise you."
The opening-round games were played at Marlins Park, which was rocking with a Latin American flavor, and the U.S. needed 10 heart-pounding innings to outlast Jose Quintana and Colombia in the victory that would allow it to advance to San Diego.
Escaping South Florida was just as critical as winning the elimination game against the Dominican Republic in San Diego, in the game highlighted by the Jones catch, and beating Japan, 2-1, in the semifinal.
Blue Jays ace Marcus Stroman, the event's MVP, threw six shutout innings in the championship game, when the U.S. defeated a Puerto Rico team that had been 7-0, including a semifinal victory over surprising Netherlands.
It was clear in the celebration at Dodger Stadium how much the time together had meant for American stars Eric Hosmer, Christian Yelich, Ian Kinsler and Brandon Crawford, among others.
"It's a different feeling when the 'USA' is on your chest," Hosmer said. "We wanted to get the U.S. back on top of the baseball world, and we did that."
Joe Torre, who put the U.S. team together as its general manager, could not have been prouder of Leyland and the players.
"These guys were here to do their best," Torre said. "The thing I marveled at was how quickly they came together, and Jimmy deserves a lot of that credit. They're just a great group who understood what this event is all about."
While baseball's international stars and fans long ago embraced the event, it has often received a tepid response from American players and stars. Leyland believes this will be different in the future because of the success in 2017.
"I don't mean this to sound wrong, but for the most part, up until this point, the other countries were probably into this event a little bit more than the United States,'' Leyland said. "But in talking to our players, I know they're going to spread the word. I've had some players already tell me this is the greatest experience of their life. … Joe Torre did a great job of putting them together, and they made themselves a team in a short period of time.''
Nothing speaks louder than replays of Jones' catch in San Diego. His play is perfectly framed by a sea of patriotic, flag-waving, America-loving fans, loving every moment.
You know it's going to be a good year for baseball when drama like this starts in March.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com.