WBC’s seeding games need fixing

SAN DIEGO – Here’s the thing about these WBC seeding games: There is so little to them.

The savvy managers are protecting their better pitchers and players, except for Davey Johnson, who at last count has eight available players and has petitioned tournament organizers to close right field for the final weekend.

At best, everybody tries to screw on a little intensity for the marginal reward of some last ups in the next round, which hardly seems worth the risk in elbows and hamstrings and regular seasons. Ultimately it shows, often in the game, sometimes in the crowd count, and so it has become a small but nagging flaw in a generally worthwhile event.

They have to play the games, no doubt, even if they’re potentially more trouble than they’re worth, which is how Japan and Korea found each other Thursday night, for the fourth time in 12 days and the seventh time in two WBCs. And so the classic format has served to both heighten and dilute the rivalry, a neat trick in only three years.

The Koreans lost and afterward their manager said unapologetically, “We didn’t put great meaning to winning or losing,” sounding much like the Venezuelan and American managers from the night before.

From a recent history of playing every game to the final inch and their final breaths, they did again, sort of, but not before combining for six errors. Not before one of Korea’s players – outfielder Yong-Kyu Lee – took a fastball off the back of his head. Not before Japan’s most productive hitter – Shuichi Murata – blew out a hamstring and was lost for the tournament. And not before the two teams ran through 13 pitchers, which dragged Japan’s 6-2 win out over more than 3½ hours.

Yes, the Japanese won, and afterward their manager said, “Psychologically I was – myself as well as all of the players – it was a flat condition psychologically.”

Again, unapologetically. This needs to be fixed.

Granted, the translation seems a bit sketchy. But there might be something wrong with the format when the last game played before the semifinals means nothing to either team.

What all of this did settle was the weekend schedule at Dodger Stadium.

Korea gets Venezuela on Saturday, Japan gets the U.S. on Sunday.

The pitching matchups probably look like this: Korea’s Hyunjin Ryu vs. Venezuela’s Carlos Silva, and Japan’s Daisuke Matsuzaka vs. the U.S.’s Jake Peavy.

That looks a lot like another Korea-Japan rematch on Monday night.

At the end of a week here, Japan’s traveling party boarded several buses, heading north as the pool’s No. 1 seed. And while he hadn’t managed to the very end of his ballclub to do it, Tatsunori Hara did appear pleased with what the result would bring him. A decorated third baseman for the Tokyo Giants over 15 seasons through 1995, Hara appeared taken by a chance to manage against the Americans. As a child, he said, perhaps in second or third grade, he’d been swept away by a book about Babe Ruth.

“I was so interested,” he said.

And as a grown man, he’d measured the game he played and the leagues he played in against those played across the Pacific Ocean.

“There’s a little time left and that time is welcome, for sure,” Hara said, meaning the wait until Sunday. “I am very excited about that, myself, to play against the American team. When I started watching the major leagues, I was very impressed. We needed to catch up with the major leagues, and we needed to go beyond that, and that was the education and the circumstances of how I played baseball. That was my baseball.

“I have a great deal of respect for American baseball. And here is a great opportunity right in front of me. And I am so excited about that.”

Well, there’s more good news for him. Not only is Team USA down a few essential body parts – Dustin Pedroia, Chipper Jones, Ryan Braun and Kevin Youkilis are among the afflicted – but Peavy has had problems in the bigger moments of his career. His ERA after two starts in this WBC is nearly 15.00. His ERA in two postseason starts is more than 12.00. And in his final start of 2007, his Cy Young season, he gave up six runs in 6 1/3 innings in the one-game playoff against the Colorado Rockies.

Now, the WBC most certainly is not October baseball. It’s not even April baseball. But Matsuzaka appears to be bearing down on a WBC MVP repeat, so now is as good of a time as any for Peavy to start pitching better in big games.

And certainly the games get bigger from here. You know, now that everybody’s seeded.

Tim Brown is a national baseball writer for Yahoo! Sports. He co-authored with Jim Abbott the memoir “Imperfect: an Improbable Life”.   Follow him on Twitter.   Send Tim a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Friday, Mar 20, 2009