1. The World Baseball Classic wants acceptance as a premier, competitive event. But the major league players also need time to get ready for Opening Day. Padres pitcher Jake Peavy of Team USA stood out Saturday night as an example of what can go wrong when those become competing interests.
Puerto Rico hammered Peavy for six runs in two innings, and though Puerto Rico won by way of the mercy rule, 11-1, the game really was over when Peavy was permitted to absorb such a pounding. Peavy never could get the ball down in the strike zone. Eight of the first 14 batters against him reached base. It was downright ugly. A Cuban starting pitcher, for instance, would have been yanked in the first inning with that kind of stuff.
And yet U.S. manager Davey Johnson didn't bother even to get a relief pitcher up until the score was 5-0. Why? Johnson, who arrived slightly late to the game to attend a wedding, provided a puzzling answer. Johnson was asked if he considered pulling Peavy even one batter earlier, because Peavy's last batter put him over the 50-pitch threshold that by rule requires him to sit out four days -- essentially knocking him out of Round 2 entirely (which may not be such an awful consequence). Johnson also had a bullpen stocked to the gills with one-inning pitchers; the roster has nobody who could give him any length. Here's how Johnson responded:
"Yeah, we had a lot of one-inning pitchers out there. Just basically let him get a little more work. Unfortunately, it wasn't really great work, but he still needed the work. Like I said, it's double elimination. It wasn't a thing where it was ... hook him in the second inning. Just let him get his work in."
Just let him get his work in? Ugh. The United States is trying to serve two masters: sell meaningful competition but also make sure millionaire players get their work in. It was one of those awkward nights when the competing interests blew up on the Americans.
2. Here's something else I don't get: the U.S. players on the field had no idea they faced the possibility of a walkoff loss with two outs in the seventh inning. Puerto Rico led, 9-1, when Mike Aviles batted with runners on second and third and two outs. Aviles blooped a single into right field to send both runners home.
Catcher Brian McCann only knew the game was over because he saw the Puerto Rico team pouring out of the dugout. Second baseman Mark DeRosa and right fielder Adam Dunn had no idea what was happening. Dunn, in fact, had fielded the ball, lobbed it back to the infield and was walking back to his position.
Maybe it is a moot point. The game was a lost cause, anyway. Maybe you bring the outfield in to try to cut down the winning run. Maybe Dunn plays the ball more aggressively. Maybe Johnson walks Aviles to set up a better matchup with force plays in order. But is it too much to ask to expect the players to actually know the rules of the tournament? It was eerily reminiscient of the 2006 WBC when the players had no idea of the tie-breaker rules.
"When you put this uniform on," DeRosa said, "you don't ever expect that you could be a part of [the mercy rule]. But being down 6-0 against a big league pitching staff, that's pretty stiff."
Said Dunn, "The word that comes to mind is embarrassing. It's inexcusable and uncalled for. It's embarrassing."
3. The United States no doubt has been hurt by a terrible schedule. They had four off days in the previous five days, way too much down time. The U.S. should have arranged for some kind of simulated game or even a B squad game against a major league team on Friday -- anything to provide the players with game-like conditions. The main fault, however, is that the tournament builds in far too many off days.
4. You've got to admire the Netherlands, especially because they haven't acquired the dull language of jockspeak common to pro athletes. Take Bryan Englehardt, the left fielder who had two hits and scored the lone Dutch run. Englehardt ripped a no-out double in the second inning that should have given the Netherlands second and third with no outs. Instead, third base coach Wim Martinus windmilled home the runner from first, Yurendell DeCaster, who was out by a kilometer. The Netherlands, a horrible offensive team that has scored five earned runs in five WBC games, ran itself out of the game with that gaffe.
"Yeah, I was able to see that nobody was out," Englehardt said. "Maybe the coach needs to stop the guy on third base. After the game you think about it, and you say that it was one [turning] point."
And here is Englehardt on what the difference between playing against the Dominican Republic and Venezuela: "Venezuela plays more like a team, and Dominican plays more individuals."
5. Venezuela manager Luis Sojo did something in mid-March no manager has done in almost two years: he used closer Frankie Rodriguez for a four-out save. The last time Rodriguez recorded a save requiring more than three outs? Way back on July 1, 2007. Rodriguez, who pitched some in Venezuela winter ball to prepare for the WBC, is throwing the ball extremely well, especially considering Opening Day is still three weeks away.