Sure, we love the underdog adventures in this World Baseball Classic. When Team Italy stages a crazy ninth-inning rally to upset Mexico, hey, that's amore! When Team Israel and magnetic mascot "Mensch on a Bench" surprisingly get a shot at the semifinals, we all get a little verklempt.But the titans
Sure, we love the underdog adventures in this World Baseball Classic. When Team Italy stages a crazy ninth-inning rally to upset Mexico, hey, that's amore! When Team Israel and magnetic mascot "Mensch on a Bench" surprisingly get a shot at the semifinals, we all get a little verklempt.
But the titans of this tourney -- in odds and in oomph -- are the United States and the Dominican Republic. So from the moment the brackets were released, there was reason to anticipate what is a sold-out clash Saturday night at Marlins Park (6:30 p.m. ET on MLB.TV and MLB Network), where the U.S. will send Blue Jays right-hander Marcus Stroman to the mound opposite the Marlins' Edinson Volquez.
:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::
And now, after Team USA's thrilling walk-off 3-2 win in the 10th inning against Colombia on Friday night, Pool C's Must-C matchup will have second-round seeding implications, should both of these clubs advance as anticipated.
With Colombia beating Canada, 4-1, on Saturday afternoon, Team USA can punch its ticket to the second round with a win vs. the Dominican Republic.
No doubt, the pressure is on the Americans in this tournament and particularly in this game against the defending World Baseball Classic champs. Despite hosting rights and hoopla, Team USA has never medaled in the Classic, and much is expected out of Jim Leyland's superstar-laden roster here in 2017.
"We know what's at stake," Stroman said.
So when the U.S. was no-hit by Colombia commodity, White Sox ace and tantalizing trade target Jose Quintana for 5 2/3 innings Friday night, that pressure was palpable. To the benefit of Leyland's blood pressure ("Now you know why I'm not managing anymore," he would joke afterward), Adam Jones got the U.S. on the board and off the schneid with an RBI double after Quintana exited. And Jones would later be the one to come through with the 10th-inning RBI heroics to prevent Team USA from facing what amounts to a must-win situation against a tough-to-top Dominican club.
Even if advancement out of Pool C isn't necessarily on the line Saturday, there's no denying this is a tell-tale confrontation for the American squad, which, to this point (two exhibitions and the Colombia game) hasn't generated as much traffic on the basepaths as the loaded lineup would lead you to believe.
No doubt, though, that lineup -- this roster, in general -- is stacked, and the stars who agreed to suit up for the stars and stripes have readily acknowledged the eyes upon them and the need to overcome their country's less-than-stellar track record in this tourney.
The D.R., meanwhile, came as advertised with Thursday's easy 9-2 win over Canada, punctuated by Jose Bautista's big blast. Sure, something about Bautista homering against Canada just felt wrong, but, for the Dominican team, the result was right in line with their Classic norm. The D.R. has a 15-4 overall record in Classic play for a .790 winning percentage that is the best of any participant.
This, then, is a litmus test for the U.S., which was fortunate to be able to avoid using Andrew Miller in Friday's extra-innings tilt. It has been said that if the U.S. has any advantage over the D.R. here, it is in the nine-man relief corps anchored by the statuesque and slider-slinging Miller, and perhaps this game will come down to a battle of the bullpens. The first order of business, though, is for Stroman to tame a laughably long lineup in which, against Canada, Bautista, Jose Reyes, Manny Machado and Gregory Polanco all turned in multi-hit efforts and Bautista, Polanco, Adrian Beltre and Welington Castillo all drove in runs.
The 5-foot-8 Stroman has been known to live by the mantra that "height doesn't measure heart," and maybe, by the same token, this one game doesn't measure the ultimate ability of this U.S. team.
But the Dominican Republic is the standard by which all other World Baseball Classic entries are judged, and so this is an important opportunity for Team USA to demonstrate that this year's Classic result won't be the same ol' subpar showing we've seen the first three times this tournament was held.
The U.S. vs. the D.R. It's a doozy of a duel, a resounding reminder of why the World Baseball Classic exists and why we love it. And for Team USA, especially, it's an important opportunity to make international waves.
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, 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.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.