With Friday night’s disappointing 4-3 loss to Puerto Rico in the books, Team USA has fallen short of reaching the World Baseball Classic finals for the third time in as many tournaments.
I guess disappointing would actually be an understatement considering how positive things were looking on Tuesday after the American squad knocked off the same Puerto Rico team 7-1 at Marlins Ballpark in Miami. But that all unraveled quickly and violently over the past 30 or so hours beginning with the news that their hottest hitter, David Wright, would be sidelined the remainder of the tournament with a moderate intercostal strain.
Then came a dramatic 3-1 loss to the Dominican Republic in which the always reliable Craig Kimbrel faltered in the ninth inning, allowing the game to slip away. But there were certainly other opportunities for the USA to turn their fortunes around. In fact, the frustrations began right away in the first inning when they plated only one run against a scuffling Samuel Deduno.
Still, despite that loss, despite the fact they were playing with a roster that had far less firepower than they were capable of fielding, and despite the fact that Joe Torre managed the tournament like a guy who's never attended a baseball game, let alone managed the New York Yankees to four world championships, all they had to do on Friday night was win. And they failed. For several reasons, too. But I've narrowed it down to the four that really stand out and help explain why we won't be seeing them in San Francisco.
• Nelson Verlander?: Or was that Nelson Figueroa? I couldn't tell the difference. Not to take anything away from a guy who's carved out a solid nine-year career at the major league level, either, but the USA's inability to put any type of pressure on him the first six innings is inexcusable. They didn't even have their first baserunner until the fourth, and obviously by the time they could piece a few hits together it was too late.
• Clutch at-bats by Mike Aviles: Andy Gonzalez delivered the game's biggest hit with a ringing two-run double in the sixth. Hero status for him without question. But both of Puerto Rico's scoring innings were fueled by quality at-bats from Mike Aviles. The first came in the first when he delivered Angel Pagan with a two-out single. Then it the sixth, Aviles poked another two-out single to keep a seemingly harmless inning alive.
Two walks and that Gonzalez double later... a 1-0 game is 4-0.
It's the little things, folks, and Team USA didn't have nearly enough focused or productive plate appearances in two out situations. Especially over the last two games.
• Vinnie Pestano’s meltdown: On the flipside, it was Pestrano who was charged with the task of keeping the score close in that sixth inning. The first batter he was faced was Aviles, so clearly he didn't accomplish the goal. In fact, he didn't retire a single one of the four batters he faced before giving way to Jeremy Affeldt. If he retires even one, it's entirely different ballgame.
• Bases loaded failures: Ben Zobrist did draw a bases loaded walk in the eighth to make it 4-3. Unfortunately, that was the lone productive plate appearance in said situation for Team USA in the late innings. The first missed opportunity came in the seventh when Adam Jones was called out on a controversial third strike to end the inning. Probably a ball, but certainly borderline enough that Jones should have taken a hack.
Then in the eighth both Giancarlo Stanton and Eric Hosmer had chances to flip the game for the Americans. Stanton wouldn't go down without a fight, hanging in for eight grueling pitches, but Fernando Cabrera won the battle by inducing a popup. A scuffling Hosmer was subdued much easier, however, grounding out weakly to second base to end the final threat.
Quality chances. Fantastic drama. Great viewing. But overwhelming disappointment for Team USA.
[Baseball 2013 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Join a league today!]
For Puerto Rico, however, this marks a historic victory. They're now locked into the semifinals in San Francisco. But first it's a matchup with the Dominican Republic on Saturday to determine their seeding. A win there would also be important as it would give them Sunday off. A loss means they're traveling cross country to play the two-time defending champions from Japan.
In other words, they don't have much time to enjoy this win, but they definitely should enjoy it.
Baseball video from Yahoo! Sports:
Other popular content on Yahoo! Sports:
• Victor Oladipo's 360 slam highlights Indiana's Big Ten quarterfinal win
• Witnesses in Ohio rape trial granted immunity, give graphic testimony
• Photo gallery: NCAA mascots in action
• Jason Terry not impressed with Heat's 21-game win streak