Mexico put an early end to the scenario in which both Canada and Mexico might have squeezed out the larger neighbor between them in Pool B of the World Baseball Classic.
Were three teams to end pool play with 2-1 records, the tiebreaker to determine which two of them advance would be fewest runs allowed in head-to-head play. That meant that the USA could have been eliminated–regardless of tomorrow’s seeming cakewalk against South Africa–if Mexico were to beat Canada today and if tit had scored two or fewer runs in doing so.*
Mexico ended that suspense in a hurry by getting out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning on a hit batsman and four (!) consecutive doubles (by Erubiel Durazo, Geronimo Gil, Luis A. Garcia, and Miguel Ojeda) off Jeff Francis. Mexico added two more in the second on yet another double (Luis C. Garcia) and a homer (by Jorge CantÃº)–all off Francis. Maybe Ernie Whitt stayed with his starter too long? Mke Myers is now in for Canada.
So, now, just over 24 hours after the high of beating USA, it is Canada that is looking at likely elimination, unless they can come back against Mexico. Don’t count them out, for once starter Esteban Loiaza is out of the game, Canada’s chance against the rest of the Mexican staff ought to improve. But Canada has its work cut out, for sure. Mexican pitchers allowed only two runs to the USA (and four to RSA).
If Canada loses to Mexico, they have to root for the South African team to upset USA tomorrow, or they are out. The Canadian players know the South African team is not to be taken lightly, as it nearly beat them earlier this week. South Africa then lost badly to Mexico and faces long odds now of escaping the WBC with even one win.
*Because that would have meant Canada’s pitchers allowed 7 or 8 runs and Mexico 2 or 3 in the head-to-head games among the three tied teams. The USA allowed 8 (and Canada owned the tiebreaker with USA on account of having won their matchup). These international baseball tiebreaker rules are pretty obscure!
UPDATE: Loiaza has been quite economical with his pitches. The limit on pitches thrown in a game in the first round is 65, and Loaiza managed to get through five innings on just 62, shutting out Canada.
Canada is undefeated so far in Pool B play, having beaten the USA, 8-6, in another thriller. Canada has one game remaining, against Mexico tomorrow. The Americans have a day off before facing South Africa. Most likely both Canada and USA will advance, but it’s not a sure thing.
Jeff Blair, in the Globe and Mail, has some more information on the South African team, in a report written after that team’s 13-1 thrashing by a split-sqaud A’s team, but before its near-upset of Canada:
South Africa has three position players with time in the minor leagues – two of them, second baseman Paul Bell and third baseman Jonathan Phillips, played in the Milwaukee Brewers system while first baseman Nick Dempster played in the Los Angeles Dodgers, Montreal Expos and Los Angeles Dodgers organizations. [sic]
Canada will see the only South African pitcher with minor league experience, right-hander Barry Armitage, a Kansas City Royals minor leaguer who was 4-3 (3.87) last year at Double-A Wichita. But manager Rick Magnante, the Athletics Southern California scout who signed Barry Zito, Crosby and Eric Byrnes, said he is unsure whether Armitage or Carl Michaels will start. Michaels, a right-hander, signed a contract with the Brewers after the 2000 Olympics but blew out his arm and returned to South Africa.
There is very little at MLB’s site about this game, and only the smallest of blurbs in the LA Times. So, time to go to the countries involved, and see how a major paper in each country covered the game.
First, the opening passages from each paper that I looked at.
“Pool A” of the preliminary round of the World Baseball Classic got underway on 3 March in Tokyo. It can hardly said to be surprising that both Japan and South Korea are off to 2-0 records. This pool is somewhat less than interesting, as it would be a major upset if the two teams to advance to the next round from this pool were not South Korea and Japan.
Tonight (Sunday in Japan) will be the matchup of the two undefeated teams, as well as the showdown between the two 0-2 teams. So, the big question of the tournament so far is: Who will wind up 1-2: Taiwan or Chinese Beijing?
UPDATE: It is hardly surprising that Chinese Beijing fell to Taiwan to go 0-3. The Inter-China Battle feartured a score of 12-3, meaning the team from the mainland was outscored in their three games, 40-6!
The agreement … ensures no funding will make its way into the hands of the Castro regime.
Or into that nation’s baseball federation, as is the case with all other participants. At least they will be participating.
*edited in response to a pertinent comment by Chris L. that the Bush administration got the core of what it really wanted, which was an assurance that no money would go to the government. And while I agree with Chris that the Cuban baseball federation is not independent, the US government does allow various forms of limited trade that also face the same “fungibility” problem he refers to, and the Clinton administration allowed the games between the Cuban team and the Orioles without changing the basic embargo policy. So, an exception for baseball would hardly be “silly”–or even all that exceptional.
Although the idea of the World Baseball Classic–principally, to promote baseball internationally by having major-league players play for teams assembled under the flag of their home countries–is a good one, inevitably the WBC is succumbing to the same scourges that afflict the Olympics: nationalism and petty politics.
Just to give one example, the other night I was listening to the MLB channel on XM Radio. Holden Kushner, one of the XM MLB hosts, was weighing in on the ongoing attempts by MLB to have the US government rescind its prohibition on Cuban participation in the WBC. He favors Cuban participation. Good so far. But why? So he can enjoy watching Team USA whip the “Cubans’ butts.”
I don’t get it. The Cuban team, if it is allowed in, would be the one team with no major-league millionaires or even minor-league prospects on it. It would be a team of not-very-well-off players who are playing for the love of the game, and whom we in the USA would most likely otherwise never get to see. And we should root against them because we are Americans and our political leadership despises their political leadership? I just do not get it.
For the record, if Cuba is in, that’s the team I am rooting for. Cuba, while a force in amateur international baseball, will be an underdog in the WBC–precisely because it will be competing against major-league big-money all-star teams from the USA, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela. I will be rooting for them precisely because they will be players I have never heard of and will never see again (absent defections).
Moreover, the Cuban team, if permitted, would be the one team that won’t be playing to benefit its home-country baseball federation. In order to try to get around the US ban, Cuba has offered to donate all proceeds to Hurricane Katrina victims. A worthy cause, for sure. But why not donate a share of all the proceeds, and not just Cuba’s, to this purpose, thereby still allowing the baseball federation of Cuba–the poorest country and one of the most baseball-passionate in this tournament–to gain needed support for a program that gains none of the revenue that flows to the Dominican and other countries from their MLB stars?
Also for the record, if Cuba is forced out by the US government, I really do not care about the WBC. It will be far less “classic” and will have seen its inaugural tournament sullied by petty politics. Of course, there might not even be a WBC if Cuba is barred, because the International Baseball Federation may withdraw its sanction, causing several other countries to withdraw. Puerto Rico has already said it will not participate without Cuba.
And then there is the looseness of the definition of nationality in this tournament. The Italian team will be loaded with players who might have visited Italy once or twice, but otherwise are no more connected to Italy than I am to Norway or Germany. Mark Mulder will play for the Netherlands. Well, at least he is from South Holland.
And why are the Netherlands Antilles, home of Andruw Jones, lumped in with the Netherlands, yet Puerto Rico is not considered part of the USA? And of course, Taiwan will participate, but not under its own name and flag. That would offend the PRC.
It is all quite absurd.
With 43 days before the scheduled start of the tournament,the Cuba question needs to be resolved quickly.
NOTE (January 21, 2006): This post drew several comments, mostly from one blogger who saw it as an opportunity to have a forum for his grievances against anyone who would advise exchanges with Cuba as long as Castro is in power, and who seemed unable to differentiate rooting for baseball players from supporting the dictator of those player’s country. He is entitled to his opinion and to express them, but I firmly believe that anyone who must first distort the ideas of his debating partner and then go and attack the debating partner personally, rather than take the ideas head on and criticize them, has already lost the argument before he or she even got started. Such was the case with the commentator in question. I have deleted all these comments from here so that a topic–which is actually far off the main themes of F&V and appeared here in the first place only because I have been posting periodically about the WBC (i.e., its baseball aspects)–no longer appears in excerpt form on the left sidebar. However, anyone wishing to see the comments may go to a separate page on which the above post and all its comments appear. (Some of the comments have been edited to remove personal attacks that I considered inappropriate, although they have not been edited any further since last appearing beneath the original post.) The comment form for this post is now closed.
In addition to the long list of comments to this post, folow-up posts include:
The Treasury Dept. ostensibly rejected a license for Cuba to participate because the long-standing economic embargo of that island nation “prohibits entering into contracts in which Cuba or Cuban nationals have an interest,” a spokesman for that department told the New York Times in Friday’s editions.
But any financial remuneration gained by the Cubans from the tournament would be only to support the growth of baseball and the organizations that support baseball in that country.
Not only in the case of Cuba, but for all participating countries:
A minimum of 50 percent of the profits distributed to those [national baseball] federations must be devoted to grassroots baseball development in their respective countries. The remaining 48 percent of profits must be divided among the professional organizations involved in conducting the tournament.
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4