World Baseball Classic 2013 Results: Pool 2's Biggest Stars, Goats
Just like that, the 2013 World Baseball Classic has come down to four teams.
We all expected that Japan would come out of Pool 1, and the two-time WBC champions are joined in San Francisco by a Netherlands squad that nobody thought had the pitching to make a deep run in the tournament.
That same line of thought applies to Pool 2 as well, where we all expected the Dominican Republic to advance, but weren't quite sure if Puerto Rico had the arms to get past the sleeping giant that was the United States or an upstart Italian squad.
Well, the giant still sleeps, back into hibernation for another four years, while the upstarts beat themselves with shoddy defense.
There's plenty of blame to go around—and plenty of accolades to be handed out as well.
Let's take a look at who came up big—and who wilted under the spotlight.
Star: Yadier Molina, C (Puerto Rico)
Yadier Molina isn't his team's leading hitter (that honor goes to Angel Pagan), and he's yet to drive in a run for Puerto Rico in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
But his impact on the game goes way beyond offensive statistics, something Ben Badler of Baseball America adeptly pointed out after Puerto Rico had eliminated the United States from the tournament:
For a guy who went 1-for-4, Yadier Molina had a hell of a night. Called a great game, framed pitches, made an impact blocking and throwing.
— Ben Badler (@BenBadler) March 16, 2013
Without Molina behind the plate in WBC play, Puerto Rico hasn't won a game. With him? Four wins, one loss and a spot in the semifinal round in San Francisco.
WBC Stats: 5 G. .368 BA, .768 OPS, 0 XBH, 0 RBI, 2 R
Goat: Anthony Granato, SS (Italy)
Who was Italy's leading hitter throughout the 2013 World Baeball Classic?
If you said Anthony Rizzo, you'd be incorrect.
That honor belongs to shortstop Anthony Granato, who led the team with a .429 batting average.
I numeri sono ingannevoli.
Translation: The numbers are misleading.
All but one of his hits came in the first round of the tournament, and the solid defense he showed in Italy's three first-round games failed to make the trip from San Juan, Puerto Rico to Miami.
Granato's ill-fated attempt to run down a slicing popup by the Dominican Republic's Robinson Cano in the bottom of the seventh inning—Granato got a piece of his glove on the ball but couldn't make the catch—allowed Cano to reach base and score the eventual game-winning run.
Things only got worse against Puerto Rico, with Italy facing elimination.
With one out and a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, Granato misplayed three ground balls—two that were charged as errors—allowing Puerto Rico to get on the board and forcing Italian manager Marco Mazzieri to pull Granato from the game.
His replacement, Jack Santora, wouldn't fare much better, misplaying two balls in the eighth inning that led to Puerto Rico scoring three runs and eventually sending Italy home, 4-3.
WBC Stats: 5 G. .429 BA, .967 OPS, 1 XBH (0 HR), 1 RBI, 2 R
Star: Robinson Cano, 2B (Dominican Republic)
Robinson Cano continued his torrid play in the second round of the 2013 World Baseball Classic for the undefeated Dominican Republic squad, going 4-for-8 with a double, home run, RBI and a pair of runs scored in two second-round games.
While he managed only one hit in four at-bats against the United States, striking out three times, Cano came up big against Italy.
His solo home run off of Italian starter Tiago Da Silva in the bottom of the sixth inning bought the Dominican squad within two runs of tying the game, and an inning later—with some help from the aforementioned Anthony Granato—he'd score the eventual game-winning run.
As U.S. manager Joe Torre told reporters (per MLB.com):
— MLB (@MLB) March 13, 2013
With the way Cano has swung the bat so far for the Dominican Republic, there's no argument to be made against his former manager.
WBC Stats: 5 G. .565 BA, 1.565 OPS, 6 XBH (2 HR), 6 RBI, 5 R
Goat: David Wright's Body
When Captain America went down with what was initially reported as a sore back (later diagnosed as a moderate strain on the left side of his rib cage, according to Sports Illustrated,) you just didn't have a warm, fuzzy feeling about Team USA's chances to advance past the second round of the WBC.
Those fears were justified, as the United States' offense was flat without the team's leading hitter and run producer, dropping both of its games and ending the 2013 World Baseball Classic with a whimper.
Wright wasn't just crushing the ball—he was producing runs at a record-setting pace, as MLB's public relations department took to Twitter to point out:
With 10 RBI, David Wright now tied with Ken Griffey Jr. & Korea's Seung Yeop Lee (both in 2006) for most in single #WBC.— MLB Public Relations (@MLB_PR) March 13, 2013
That's 10 RBI in four games.
Not too shabby.
WBC Stats: 4 G. .438 BA, 1.276 OPS, 3 XBH (1 HR), 10 RBI, 4 R
Star: Nelson Figueroa, SP (Puerto Rico)
Nelson Figueroa hasn't thrown a pitch in the major leagues since 2011, splitting time in 2012 between Triple-A affiliates for the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.
Over a nine-year big league career, Figueroa has been mediocre at best, going 20-35 with a 4.55 ERA and and 1.46 WHIP for six different teams.
Appparently, Figueroa didn't get the memo prior to the 2013 World Baseball Classic that told him he wasn't very good.
The 38-year-old journeyman has been lights out for Puerto Rico thus far, and his performance against the United States was dominant.
Figueroa threw six innings of scoreless baseball, allowing only three U.S. batters to reach base (two hits and a walk)—and he did it by changing speeds and locating his pitches, not by blowing the ball past batters, making his outing all the more impressive.
WBC Stats: 2 G. 2-0, 1.80 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 10 IP, 7 H, 1 BB, 3 K
Goat: Craig Kimbrel, RP (United States)
Craig Kimbrel might be the best closer in baseball, but he threw like anything but that in the second round of the WBC for the United States.
With the score tied at one, Kimbrel took the mound in the top of the ninth inning against the Dominican Republic with the U.S. needing its shutdown closer to shut down the opposition.
Instead, Kimbrel gave the game away. He'd face five batters, allowing three hits and two runs, pushing the United States to the brink of elimination.
While he'd throw an inning of scoreless relief against Puerto Rico the following night, the damage had already been done.
Kimbrel came up short when his team needed him most.
WBC Stats: 4 G, 0-1, 4.91 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 3.2 IP, 5 H, 3 K
Star: Nelson Cruz, RF (Dominican Republic)
He might not be as high profile a star as his teammate Robinson Cano, but Nelson Cruz has been every bit as effective as the All-Star second baseman for the Dominican Republic throughout the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Cruz followed up a solid opening round of action by going 4-for-8 with a pair of doubles, a RBI and a run scored over the Dominican Republic's first two games of the second round.
He didn't just put up empty numbers either, as Cruz came through in the clutch when his team needed him the most.
With two outs and runners on the corners in the bottom of the seventh inning against Italy, with the game tied at four, Cruz stepped to the plate to face Brian Sweeney, a pitcher he'd only faced twice before, going 1-for-1 with a double and a walk against.
Cruz would single to left field, scoring the aforementioned Cano from third base with the eventual game-winning run. It marked the second time during the tournament that Cruz hit a RBI single to left field that wound up scoring the winning run, accomplishing the feat against Spain in the opening round of action.
WBC Stats: 5 G. .429 BA, 1.026 OPS, 3 XBH (0 HR), 6 RBI, 3 R
Goat: Joe Torre, Manager (United States)
During the United States' final game of the 2013 World Baseball Classic tournament against Puerto Rico, much was made on the television broadcast about how manager Joe Torre was deferring to pitching coach Greg Maddux on all pitching decisions.
That wasn't entirely the case, as the final decision of when to pull pitchers off the mound was Torre's to make.
He dropped the ball against Puerto Rico, as ESPN's Jerry Crasnick recounts:
USA starter Ryan Vogelsong was pitching well and had thrown 73 pitches, or seven short of his 80-pitch limit, with two out in the sixth. But Torre went to the mound and pulled him, in part because he wanted to make sure that Vogelsong was in fine working order when he rejoins the San Francisco Giants. Torre was going to push the envelope with only one pitcher in this tournament and it was Blue Jays knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.
"Even though there's a pitch limit, it didn't mean we were going to get there," Torre said. "When you have [starters] going from 65 to 80 pitches, in that regard it's still spring training, and we weren't going to push anybody."
The man who replaced Vogelsong, Vinnie Pestano, failed to record an out.
With the United States trailing 1-0, Pestano allowed a single to Mike Aviles, a pair of walks (one that scored the game tying run), and a two-run double.
Just like that, the game was essentially over.
Would Vogelsong have gotten Aviles out?
Maybe, maybe not.
But Vogelsong had pitched well enough up to that point to have a chance to finish the inning. If he allowed Aviles to reach base, then pull him.
While it's understandable why Torre made the move, it was the wrong decision to make—and a costly one at that.