With infallible superheros, heated brawls, merciful endings, comeback victories and sheer perfection, the 2013 World Baseball Classic truly had something for everyone.
While the tournament has yet to experience tremendous success domestically—due in part to the fact that the United States was only a .500 team—the 2013 WBC has set viewership records in both Japan and Taiwan.
That's no small feat, and it's a testament to how accepted the tournament has become.
Love it or hate it, the WBC is here to stay.
But quality competition and national pride aren't the only reasons to tune in. In its third installment, the WBC delivered more than its fair share of remarkable performances.
Let's take a look at the most memorable moments of the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
While it lacked the drama of David Wright's blast for the United States against Italy, Cuba's Jose Dariel Abreu—who we pegged as a player to watch heading into the tournament—hit an equally impressive bases-clearing shot in the first round of the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
With Cuba already leading China 8-0 in the bottom of the fifth inning, Abreu stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and one out and took Chinese pitcher Yu Liu's offering deep to left field, giving Cuba a 12-0 lead.
China, able to muster only three singles against Cuban pitching, would be the first victim of the mercy rule in the 2013 tournament, with the game called after six-and-a-half innings of play.
On the heels of dropping its first game of the 2013 World Baseball Classic to Cuba, a 6-3 defeat to end the first round of Pool A play, Japan headed to the Tokyo Dome looking to get back on track.
It took the two-time WBC champions almost five hours and seven pitchers to do just that against Chinese Taipei.
Trailing 2-0 heading into the eighth inning, Japan would tie things up in the top half of the frame, only to surrender the lead in the bottom of the eighth, as Chinese Taipei recorded three consecutive hits off of Japanese reliever Masahiro Tanaka.
Infielder Hirozaku Ibata would record his third hit of the game in the top of the ninth inning, a two-out, RBI single that tied the game at three.
Japan's Kazuhisa Makita would shake off a leadoff single by pinch hitter Yi-Chuan Lin in the bottom of the frame, taking the game into extra innings, where 23-year-old outfielder Sho Nakata would put Japan up for good.
With runners in scoring position and one out, Nakata lifted a fly ball to left field, deep enough for Nobuhiro Matsuda to score from third base, giving Japan the eventual game-winning run.
But that almost wasn't the case, as Japan's Toshiya Sugiuchi did his best to give the lead back to his opponents in the bottom half of the inning, allowing a pair of one-out singles before inducing a game-ending double play.
Against Puerto Rico, with Italy facing elimination, shortstop Anthony Granato forgot how to field his position.
With Italy leading 3-0 in the bottom of the sixth inning and one out, Granato misplayed three ground balls—he was charged with errors on two of them—allowing Puerto Rico to get on the board and forcing Italian manager Marco Mazzieri to pull Granato from the game.
His replacement, Jack Santora, didn'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.
If you didn't know any better, you'd think that second baseman Robinson Cano and shortstop Jose Reyes have played together for years.
The duo handled the middle of the Dominican Republic's infield with relative ease, making the plays that they should have—and some that they probably shouldn't have.
Case in point: the double play that they turned against Venezuela in their team's opening game of the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
With one out in the top of the eighth inning and Venezuela trailing 9-3, World Series hero Marco Scutaro stepped to the plate with Gerardo Parra standing on first base.
Scutaro hit a bouncing ground ball past the mound toward second base, forcing Cano to his right. The Yankee star backhanded the ball with his glove and flipped it to Reyes, who barehanded it, stepped on second and fired to first, beating Scutaro to the bag by a few steps.
While Brandon Phillips' RBI single against Italy in the first round was his offensive highlight of the tournament, his defense was highlight-reel worthy almost every time a ball was hit his way.
His diving stop and subsequent toss to first base to nail Italy's Drew Butera—while in a seated position falling toward second base (video above)—drew rave reviews from both the San Francisco Chronicle's Henry Schulman and Phillips' Team USA teammate, Baltimore outfielder Adam Jones:
Brandon Phillips, who lost Gold Glove to Darwin Barney, just made one of the best diving stops for an out I've ever seen. #wbc.— Henry Schulman (@hankschulman) March 10, 2013
In the fifth inning of Team USA's 7-1 victory over Puerto Rico in the second round of the tournament, Phillips turned a double play from his knees, with Irving Falu bearing down on him at second base, nailing the speedy Alex Rios at first base by a wide margin.
Check out all of Phillips' defensive gems during the 2013 WBC here, courtesy of MLB.com:
MLB (@MLB) March 11, 2013
Heading into the tournament, we named 24-year-old right-hander Masahiro Tanaka as the Japanese player to watch.
While Tanaka was solid for the two-time defending tournament champions, it was his fellow 24-year-old, Kenta Maeda, who stole the show. Maeda made three starts for Japan during its run in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, pitching to a 0.60 ERA and WHIP over 15 innings of work.
While he took the loss against Puerto Rico in the game that ended Japan's dreams of a third WBC crown, make no mistake about it—Maeda was as good as anyone to toe the rubber in the tournament.
The numbers don't lie:
|vs. Puerto Rico||5.0||4||1||1||2||3|
Even in a losing effort, Maeda was impressive. Most teams would sign up for the outing he delivered against Puerto Rico in a second.
But before you start dreaming of your favorite MLB team signing Maeda if and when he's posted by the Hiroshima Carp, consider this report by an unnamed MLB scout, filed with Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan:
Scout: Kenta Maeda mixes pitches well, but he's at best a No. 4 starter in MLB. Sitting 88-90, topped out at 91, no plus secondary pitch.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) March 18, 2013
That said, you can count on multiple MLB teams to battle for Maeda's services should the Carp make him available.
Entering the 2013 World Baseball Classic, most experts believed that Canada had a legitimate shot to advance to the second round of the tournament while Italy, well...it was a victory for the Italian squad just to qualify.
But Italy had other ideas, blistering Canadian pitching to the tune of 14 runs and 17 hits over seven-plus innings, led by first baseman Chris Colabello's 4-for-5, four RBI night.
This victory, Italy's second of the opening round of play, was the one that sent the team into the second round of the tournament for the first time in history.
In a bizarre bit of foreshadowing, the announcer on the highlights (video above) noted that Canada would "battle Mexico" next.
How right he was.
A 38-year-old journeyman MLB starter who hasn't pitched in the big leagues since 2011 wasn't supposed to shut down the high-powered United States offense, but that's exactly what Puerto Rico's Nelson Figueroa did in the second round of the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Facing a lineup without "Captain America" David Wright, Figueroa tossed six innings of scoreless baseball against the Americans, scattering two hits and not allowing a baserunner to advance past first base.
His performance effectively knocked Team USA out of the tournament. Not bad for a guy who has compiled a 20-35 record, 4.55 ERA and 1.46 WHIP over parts of nine seasons in the major leagues.
With Canada holding a 9-3 lead heading into the ninth inning against Mexico, catcher Chris Robinson laid down a picture-perfect bunt to open the final frame.
Had this been a regular-season MLB game, bunting your way on with a six-run lead in the ninth inning would be an egregious offense, but not in the World Baseball Classic, where run differential counts as a tiebreaker.
Team Canada skipper Ernie Whitt, a 15-year MLB veteran and Toronto's longtime catcher, explained as much to MLB.com's Mike Bauman:
Regular baseball, during the season, you'd never see that. In this tournament (because of the tie-breaker), you play baseball like it's 0-0. That's the unfortunate thing.
The bunt enraged Mexico and pitcher Arnold Leon. With encouragement from third baseman Luis Cruz, who visibly told Leon to plunk the next batter, the Mexican hurler began throwing inside to Canada's Rene Tosoni.
Leon's second pitch drew a warning from home plate umpire Brian Gorman—issued to both teams—but that didn't stop Leon from drilling Tosoni in the back on the next pitch.
Tosoni headed for the mound, the benches and bullpens emptied, and all hell broke loose at Chase Field in Arizona.
This wasn't just a scrum with people pushing and shoving each other—it was an all-out brawl.
By the time both teams settled down, seven players were ejected. Danny Knobler of CBS Sports had the names:
Players ejected: Leon, Oliver Perez, Arredondo, Aceves. Orr, Tosoni, jay Johnson— Danny Knobler (@DannyKnoblerCBS) March 9, 2013
As the teams returned to their respective dugouts, Team Canada found itself the target of object-throwing Mexican fans, as manager Ernie Whitt vented to Bauman:
"One of my coaches was hit," Whitt said. "[Pitching coach] Denny Boucher was hit in the head with a bottle. [Hitting/first base coach] Larry Walker was almost hit in the head with a ball. That's when I went out to the umpire, when I said: 'Another thing comes out, we're going to pull our team off the field.'"
No matter how fired up fans are, firing projectiles at coaches and players simply has no place in the game. But that doesn't make the despicable actions of a few any less memorable.
Not considered a power hitter by any stretch of the imagination, Atlanta Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons needed only one swing of the bat to put the Kingdom of the Netherlands in position to advance to the semifinals of the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
With Kalian Sams on first base, two outs and the Netherlands trailing Cuba 6-4 in the bottom of the eighth inning, Simmons took Cuba's Norberto Gonzalez deep to left field for a game-tying, two-run home run.
An inning later, Sams hit a sacrifice fly to center field that scored Andruw Jones from third base, giving the Netherlands its first Championship Round berth in WBC history.
It's the swing that sent the "Captain America" craze into overdrive—and saved the United States from a first-round exit.
With Italy and the United States tied at two in the top of the fifth inning in their Pool D first-round matchup, U.S. third baseman David Wright stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs.
It didn't take long for Wright to send a breaking ball from Italian reliever Matt Torra into the left-center field stands, breaking the game wide open and giving the United States a 6-2 lead that it would not relinquish.
With a bevy of major league All-Stars littering its roster, the Dominican Republic did something that no other team has done in the history of the World Baseball Classic.
It ran the table. Eight games, eight wins, one WBC Championship.
The Dominicans didn't do it with blowout victories, forcing teams into submission via the mercy rule. In fact, they found themselves trailing, at one point or another, in four of the eight games they played.
Timely hitting, quality pitching, and playing for something greater than themselves were the ingredients needed to be the last team standing.
As manager Tony Peña told reporters after the championship game (via ESPN):
In the D.R., we are one of the countries which produces the greatest number of baseball players. But I had had enough of that shame of not having a trophy like this. And thank God this group of men was able to accomplish what we wanted, which is to put our country at the top in terms of baseball. And I think this trophy, this trophy says it all for the D.R.
Robinson Cano, named the WBC MVP after hitting .469 with a pair of home runs and six RBI, echoed his skipper's sentiments:
You always remember the first time for everything. Your first hit, playoffs. You always remember the first time for everything. This is always going to be in our hearts for the rest of our lives. Everyone of us who played in this game will always remember the World Baseball Classic.
Everyone who witnessed the Dominicans' historic—and memorable—run through the 2013 WBC will be sure to remember what Cano and company accomplished as well.
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