The United States is finally crowned the king of their pastime.
Everything was clicking for the US on Wednesday night as they cruised past undefeated Puerto Rico, 8-0, to claim their first World Baseball Classic crown. The win capped off what has been the most entertaining World Baseball Classic to date, with the US walking away as the champion in front of 51,565 fans in Dodger Stadium. For Puerto Rico, they fall short in the championship game for the second straight time, having lost to the Dominican Republic in the 2013 championship.
US manager Jim Leyland sent Marcus Stroman to the hill, who appeared to be in midseason form from the start. Stroman twirled six shutout innings and carried a no-hitter into the top of the seventh before Angel Pagan led off with a double. An animated Stroman would exit the game to a standing ovation, having struck out three and walking just one. It was a brilliant performance to shut down the hottest hitting team in the tournament. Puerto Rico entered the game batting .326 as a team.
Stroman’s heroics were the exclamation point on his tournament resume, which earned him the World Baseball Classic MVP award.
Neither team budged an inch until the top of the third when Ian Kinsler jumped on a Seth Lugo fastball for a two-run homer to left-center, Kinsler’s first of the tournament. It was all the run support Stroman would need, but he would receive plenty more.
Lugo began to fade in the top of the fifth when Christian Yelich drove in Kinsler with a sharp single to center to continue his hot hitting for the tournament. Andrew McCutchen drove in Yelich with a single of his own, although the single was almost an all-time web gem from Francisco Lindor, who made an unbelievable diving stop to his right, but McCutchen beat the throw to first as Yelich scored to give the US a 4-0 lead.
Lugo would finish with four earned runs over four innings, while walking four and striking out seven.
The US threatened to blow the game open in the seventh when they loaded the bases for Brandon Crawford, who entered the game batting a whopping .478 for the tournament with an OPS of 1.145. Puerto Rico countered with southpaw J.C. Romero, but even the lefty-on-lefty matchup could not cool down Crawford, who stroked a two-run single to blow the game open at 6-0. Giancarlo Stanton followed with another single to make it 7-0 as the US continued to hammer the last nails into the Puerto Rico coffin.
The US still wasn’t done as McCutchen bounced another tough grounder that almost turned into a fantastic backhand play by Javier Baez this time, but the throw was late as McCutchen had another RBI single.
Puerto Rico found themselves with multiple opportunities to stop the bleeding and keep the game close, but the US were able to drive in a total of five runs with two outs as the wind was removed from Puerto Rico’s sails.
Puerto Rico managed just three total hits on the day, neither which led to much of anything. Pagan’s leadoff double off Stroman was wasted after Sam Dyson came on to retire the side behind two strikeouts. A leadoff single by Yadier Molina in the eighth was nullified when Baez immediately followed by grounding into a double play.
The United States had no such problems at the plate, finishing the night with 13 hits. Kinsler, McCutchen, Yelich, and Nolan Arenado all finished with multiple hits on the night. The only knock on their offensive performance would be that they matched their hit total with 13 strikeouts as a team.
The Americans celebrated at the pitcher’s mound after the final out, with reliever Pat Neshek running onto the field holding a bald eagle statue high above his head while “Living in America” blasted over the loudspeakers. Talk about patriotism.
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