The Baseball Desert

Friday, March 17, 2006

The Final Countdown

There were four in the bed
and the little one said
"Roll over, roll over",
So they all rolled over and one fell out...

The U.S. team just couldn't get it done at the plate - one run on three hits was all they could muster against Mexico. Even with the help of their old friend Bob Davidson - who ruled a clear home run off the foul pole to be a double - they still came up short, and so the semi-finals of the WBC will be a USA-free event: Cuba vs. the Dominican Republic tomorrow at 3pm ET, followed by Korea vs. Japan at 10pm ET.

The blown call ended up not factoring in the final result, but it could easily have done so. Only some timely hitting by the Mexicans immediately after the incident prevented Davidson's error from eliminating Team Japan, which would have been both extremely unfair to the Japanese and extremely embarrassing for Major League Baseball. It's clear that certain aspects of the tournament need to be tweaked if it is to become a permanent and successful fixture on the baseball calendar, and the umpiring is one of them. It's tough enough to get fans and players on board as it is, without giving them another reason to dismiss the WBC out of hand, so this really needs to be sorted out for next time around. The ESPN announcers said last night that the reason the regular Major League umpires weren't working the WBC was that they hadn't been offered enough money. If that's true, then it's a no-brainer for Bud Selig - pay them what they're asking for and help reduce the margin for error in the tournament.

A word on the Mexican team, who should be applauded for the spirit in which they played the game. Admittedly, the chances of them qualifying were extremely slim, but they were nonetheless there. However, they didn't try to be cute and play for a 0-0 game going into the 13th inning - they played for the win. The most surreal moment of the game came just after the home-run-turned-double, when Mexico manager Paquin Estrada came out to argue the call, effectively making him a campaigner for his team's elimination from the tournament. In the end, though, there was more national pride to be drawn from beating the U.S. team than there was in trying to manufacture a bizarre qualification for themselves. Japan was the immediate beneficiary, but the whole image of the WBC was the better for it.

Who will now be crowned WBC champion on Monday night? To be honest, I haven't the faintest idea - any one of these teams could win the tournament. I'm still rooting for the Dominican Republic, but above and beyond that, I'm rooting for three great games of baseball which will provide a fitting conclusion to the World Baseball Classic. It's been a blast so far, and I'm hoping that the finale will carry us on a wave of euphoria through to the start of the regular season.

So, go DR. But more than that, go baseball!