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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.”
Ian Kinsler got the scoring started in the third inning against Puerto Rico starter Seth Lugo. After Jonathan Lucroy led off the inning with a single, Kinsler hit a two-run home run that cleared the left-center-field wall over the head of Enrique Hernandez.
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 David Robertson to finish out the ninth. Robertson preserved the shutout with a scoreless inning, and Team USA celebrated on the pitcher’s mound.
“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.”