LOS ANGELES -- The stars of American baseball have finally earned their World Baseball Classic stripes.
The United States got a brilliant pitching performance from starter and WBC 2017 MVP Marcus Stroman and plenty of offense from its All-Star-packed lineup of Major League luminaries to beat Puerto Rico, 8-0, in the championship game of the 2017 Classic on Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium.
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:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::
After three World Baseball Classics dating back to the inaugural tournament in 2006 in which Team USA never made it past the semifinals, the Americans won their first title in decisive style in front of a raucous, bipartisan crowd of 51,565 in Chavez Ravine.
To a man, the Americans said it was just a matter of time.
"We had to get off the schneid there," said Stroman, who didn't give up a hit until the seventh inning and finished with six-plus scoreless frames to nab the MVP honors. "Obviously our goal was to win it; every single person showed up to practice that first day with that mentality. We didn't just want to go out early or anything; we just wanted to show that baseball is passionate in America, and that's what we were able to do."
This American team, with a lineup stacked with sluggers, a solid bullpen and a stable of starters that might not have been all No. 1s but ended up more than up to the historic task, bonded from the beginning under manager Jim Leyland and ended up savoring every moment of the two-week run.
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"This was a great experience," Leyland said. "It was a great event. It was obviously a very special moment. … But it was just a wonderful experience being with all these players from different organizations. I believe we got through it totally healthy, totally happy, and we're the winners."
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The United States had to beat a tough, passionate and together Puerto Rico team to accomplish the feat. The Puerto Ricans, bonded with blond-dyed hairdos and playing with demonstrative fervor in front of noisy fans who traveled well, came into the final undefeated, having won all seven of their games and having defeated the U.S. earlier. But they ran into an epic pitching performance.
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Stroman, who was varying timing and altering his delivery with some tricky hesitation moves, had faced the minimum number of batters until Angel Pagan led off the seventh with a double. He finished his night of work in an economical 73 pitches in a start for which his limit was 95.
"He was spectacular," Puerto Rico third baseman Carlos Correa said. "He kept us off-balance all night. He did a great job. You have to give him credit."
Team USA added two runs in the fifth on RBI singles by Christian Yelich and Andrew McCutchen and padded the lead in the seventh, batting around for three runs on three hits, two walks and a hit batter. Brandon Crawford had the big hit -- a two-out, two-RBI single -- and Giancarlo Stanton followed with an RBI knock of his own.
The Americans added their eighth run in the eighth, and Leyland called on Player Page for David Robertson to finish out the ninth. Robertson preserved the shutout with a scoreless inning, and Team USA celebrated on the pitcher's mound.
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"We knew that guys were going to go out there and do our job," Yelich said. "We were talking before the game that there's no way we lose this. We just couldn't see a scenario where we lost this tournament.
"All throughout it we were confident, and we just knew that if we went out and did what we had to do, we were going to come out on top."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Kinsler connects: Kinsler's homer was his first of the tournament, and it came at a crucial time, with both teams failing to hit balls particularly hard in the first two innings. Kinsler got the crowd into the game and gave Stroman the early support he was looking for while getting to Lugo, who looked sharp in the opening frames. More >
Insurance in the fifth: Not that they necessarily needed it with a 2-0 lead and with Stroman in full domination mode, but the Americans put together a scrappy situational inning of offense in the top of the fifth to effectively put away the game. Yelich's RBI single chased Lugo, and three batters later, McCutchen's ground ball went far enough into the hole between third and shortstop for Francisco Lindor's throw to come in too late and for Yelich to score Team USA's fourth run.
An all-Crawford inning: Stroman cruised into the fifth inning having not allowed a hit and facing the minimum number of batters. His sixth inning continued in much the same way as the first five, with quick ground-ball outs. And it didn't hurt his cause that his shortstop, reigning National League Gold Glove Award winner Crawford, fielded all three groundouts in the fifth.
Stroman takes a bow: The main question regarding Team USA's spectacular starter on Wednesday was how far he could take his no-no and if he would have to be pulled because of his pitch limit in the midst of possibly making history. The fifth pitch of Pagan's at-bat in the seventh erased that storyline, and Leyland immediately popped out of the dugout to sensibly end Stroman's night. Stroman exited the field to a standing ovation and pounded his glove in excitement before descending the dugout steps. More >
"I had the honor of managing for our country, the coaches had the honor of coaching for our country, and the players had the honor of playing for our country. But this is for the men and women that serve our country." -- Leyland
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Stroman's six-plus scoreless innings dropped the combined ERA of the American starting rotation from 1.50 to 1.25. U.S. starters gave up five earned runs on 25 hits in 36 innings. No American starter allowed a home run. The rotation began the tournament by going 17 1/3 innings without allowing an earned run.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
In the top of the second inning, with Eric Hosmer on first base and one out, Crawford lined out to Lindor, who threw back to first base for an attempt at an inning-ending double play. Hosmer dove back to the bag and was ruled safe, but Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez asked for a review. The call stood after a review of one minute, 14 seconds.