By Tom Verducci
March 10, 2009

1. The World Baseball Classic arrived Tuesday night. Baseball became a truly global game when the Netherlands, the international baseball version of Buster Douglas, the 1980 U.S. hockey team and the Milan Indians rolled into one, put the tournament on the map by upsetting the heavily favored, star-studded Dominican Republic team, 2-1. Talk about shocking the world. Go crazy, Rotterdam, go crazy.

The Netherlands is a country that may be the best baseball Europe has to offer, but is a country that has never finished higher than fourth in the history of IBAF World Cup competition. Its WBC roster included just one major leaguer. A 29-year-old third baseman named Yurendell DeCaster, with the grand sum of zero major league hits, became their Lorenzo Charles with a two-out infield grounder to first base -- it was scored an error by Willy Aybar -- to cap a two-run, bottom of the 11th rally for the historic 2-1 victory. The winning run was scored by Eugene Kingsale, a 32-year-old outfielder who had washed out of the major leagues and had escorted home the go-ahead run in the top of the inning for the Dominicans with a misplay in right field. It was a single by the redemptive Kingsale that had tied the game.

Major League Baseball can work all of its machinations to pump up interest in the tournament, such as marketing and broadcasting. But there is nothing more powerful to sell the tournament than the unscripted magnificence of the game itself, never more so than when what we regard as the meek overtake the mighty. The Dominicans, because of the country's abiding love for baseball, will bear grief and shame for the defeat.

But for the Dutch, and for those who saw the WBC as a means to grow the game, victory is eternal. Van Gogh. Escher. DeKooning. And now make way for a new Dutch master: DeCaster.

2. For all the talk about pitchers getting stressed by pitching in the WBC, the real concern about the tournament is that players don't get enough work. The United States, for instance, will have played one game in five days this week, a challenging spring-training schedule because of so much down time. Jeremy Guthrie of the Orioles, the USA's No. 4 starter, will pitch in relief behind Ted Lilly of the Cubs Wednesday against Venezuela, and is very likely to fall behind his usual spring-training innings workload. In the 2006 WBC, Francisco Liriano of the Twins threw only 5 1/3 innings for the Dominican Republic. When he arrived back in Twins camp, Liriano was so far behind schedule the Twins could not get him ready for the season as a starter. He began the year in the Minnesota bullpen.

"It feels like it's been a long time since I've pitched," Lilly said. "I'm not even sure when I pitched last, probably been a week maybe, something like that. So definitely I'm eager to get out there."

USA manager Davey Johnson said he will try to get at-bats Wednesday for catcher Chris Ianetta, who has served as the backup to Brian McCann.

"Basically, the one player that's a little short on ABs is my catcher," Johnson said. "And, you know, ideally, given it's just another game for us, we qualified for the finals, ideally, I'd like to probably use both catchers. Iannetta doesn't have as many at bats as anybody else from the club, and he's about eight behind McCann, so I'm thinking about doing something there."

3. The USA-Venezuela game Wednesday really means almost nothing: just seeding for the next round, which begins Saturday in Miami. The winner gets the loser of the Puerto Rico-Netherlands game Wednesday. Nothing? Tell that to the Venezuelans.

"It's important because it's a challenge," Venezuela outfielder Endy Chavez said. "It doesn't matter that we've moved to the next level. I just want to beat the U.S. team. I think we have the talent to come through."

When asked if Venezuelans faced more pressure playing for their country in the WBC than in the MLB, Chavez replied, "I think so. The responsibility is big. We know what this means for our country. When we play the country comes to a stop."

And if Venezuela should win the WBC? "It's a party for like a month," Chavez said.

4. Venezuelan fans match their passion with inventiveness. At-bats by Chavez were occasions to announce their disapproval of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez: "Endy, si! Chavez, no!"

And speaking of heads of state, Fidel Castro is blogging on the WBC. No, really. The former Cuban president, writing under Reflections by Comrade Fidel, apparently is down with sabermetric principals that regard giving up an out with a sacrifice bunt as poor strategy. He took Japan to task for bunting in the eighth inning of a one-run game against Korea. ("an error whichever elemental way it is analyzed"). He also rapped his own team for "carelessness" on the basepaths (in a blowout win over South Africa, no less), lamented not winning the game by the mercy rule, and wrote he wants Cuba to beat Japan in the finals. Harsh stuff. Does the guy think he's some dictator, or what?

5. Venezuelan closer Frankie Rodriguez of the Mets made his 2009 WBC debut with a scoreless inning, yielding one double. I'd like to tell you his thoughts on how he threw, what it means to be looking at one inning of work over a span of eight days, and what it means to advance in the tournament and face the U.S. Wednesday, but, alas, he turned turn a media request to appear in what is called the "informal interview area," a postgame staging area away from the clubhouse where players meet the media. "Frankie Rodriguez says he is not talking to the media," said a team press officer. Huh? I don't get it. Is the WBC not a partnership with the players to help grow the game?

You May Like