Team USA plants Hollywood finish on WBC title run

Red, white, blue — and gold: Behind a dominating performance, the USA has risen to the peak of world baseball competition claiming its first World Baseball Classic title.

After sneaking past Japan in 2-1 a semi-finals victory, the American offense awoke from its brief slumber to pile 13 hits on Team Puerto Rico en route to a 8-0 onslaught in the finals at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday night.

All that offense, though, wasn’t entirely necessary, as the brightest of the 50 stars stood not in the batter’s box but on the mound. Team USA starter Marcus Stroman, who just five days prior was pummeled in the first frame of a second-round matchup with the same Puerto Ricans, held the tournament’s top offense hitless through six innings, earning the biggest single win in American international baseball history.

The question coming in was which offense would outdo the other. Given the 6-5 outcome of the only previous showdown between the two powers, that seemed logical.

From the very first inning, however, Stroman (Toronto Blue Jays) showed everyone both inside the third-base dugout and outside of it that this was a new day. In true Stroman fashion, the little right-hander coaxed three straight ground-outs in the bottom of the first — needing just nine pitches to do so.

The Blue Jays ace, who led the major leagues with 310 ground-ball outs in 2016, finished his outing, allowing one hit in 6-plus, with 11 ground-outs, three strikeouts and just two fly balls — including Angel Pagan‘s knockout double leading off the seventh.

Against any competition, Stroman’s overpowering performance would be worth recognition. Against this Puerto Rico club it is overwhelming.

With a .326 batting average, the undefeated PR came in as the tournament’s top hitting team. They led in home runs (11) and runs scored (55). They had scored at least three in every game. But, on this night, they were no match for Stroman.

For his dominant performance, which was the exclamation point on a three-start month that saw him hold the opposition to just four runs in 15-1/3 innings (2.35 ERA), leading the American pitching staff to a 1.25 tourney ERA, Stroman was named the tournament MVP.

The hurler was afforded the opportunity to get into a comfortable roll when Ian Kinsler (Detroit Tigers) opened the U.S. scoring with a two-run home run in the third. And the bats continued to pile on, posting crooked numbers in the fifth and seventh, then one more for good measure in the eighth.

Bolstered by RBI singles from Christian Yelich (Miami Marlins) and Andrew McCutchen (Pittsburgh Pirates), team USA had taken control of the contest in the fifth. But it wasn’t until a two-out rally in the seventh that Stroman and his mates secured the outcome.

After two quick outs, Nolan Arenado (Colorado Rockies), who had struck out in seven of his previous eight at-bats, sent a screamer back up the middle for a single. Eric Hosmer (Kansas City Royals) wore the very next pitch, a 95 mph fastball, on his right elbow, preceding a McCutchen base on balls.

With the table set, Brandon Crawford (San Francisco Giants) and Giancarlo Stanton (Marlins) delivered the money at-bats, providing back-to-back run-scoring knocks.

When McCutchen added a second RBI single in the eighth, the U.S. bullpen had already seized any momentum Puerto Rico momentum before it ever had a chance to blossom.

For Team Puerto Rico, WBC Finals have been a story of crumbling under pressure. In this, the team’s second consecutive trip to the title game — losing to the Dominican Republic in 2013 — the PR has yet to touch the plate, losing 3-0 in the last tournament.

What little offense it did muster was provided by former Giant, and current free agent in search of a contract, Angel Pagan, who collected two of his squad’s three hits.


Kalama Hines is SFBay’s Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.