All-Stars of Team USA outmatched, outpitched in WBC final
MIAMI - As Trea Turner rounded the bases Tuesday night after hitting his fifth home run of the World Baseball Classic, the “M-V-P!” chants roared throughout LoanDepot park.
Turner’s tournament outing - tied for the most in a single WBC, with a grand slam - was a reminder of how just how stacked this United States team was.
But on a night when stars across the South Florida sports teams converged in the Miami Marlins’ home ballpark - Bam Adebayo and Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat, Jazz Chisolm Jr. of the Marlins and Xavien Howard and Jevon Holland of the Dolphins, to name a few - the stars on Team USA couldn’t deliver a victory in the championship game.
It was only fitting that the matchup ended with a thrilling duel between two of the sport’s best players, Los Angeles Angels teammates Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout. And Ohtani closed out it, sending the United States home with a strikeout.
“It’s so difficult to hold our lineup to two runs,” said Team USA manager Mark DeRosa after Japan beat the U.S. 3-2. “I wouldn’t have thought that going in regardless of who were facing.”
Team USA’s roster featured a galaxy of stars - Trout, Mookie Betts of the Dodgers, Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado of the St. Louis Cardinals, and plenty more.
But its pitching staff lacked the same marquee names.
AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander and Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw were a couple of many notable major league pitchers who opted out of the tournament. Kershaw, who just turned 35, pulled out of the event in February.
“There were some factors that were making it hard for me to play,” Kershaw said then. “I tried to work it out on my own, tried to work it out with MLB, union, the team. Everybody worked hard to try to make it work. Just wasn’t able to.”
The American hitters delivered all tournament.
Along with his five home runs, Turner had 11 RBIs, second only to Japan’s Masataka Yoshida with 13. Betts and Arenado added 10 hits apiece, the most through the tournament.
Kyle Schwarber brought the U.S. within one run Tuesday with his second homer of the tournament, a hit off Japan’s Yu Darvish that he sent 436 feet to right center.
“Position player-wise, this is a no-brainer,” DeRosa said during group play. “They’re going to take playoff ABs (at-bats) from jump … From a pitching standpoint, they had to get going a little bit earlier and had to ramp it up a little bit earlier.”
“But I think if this is going to go where it needs to go and can go that, yes, some of the major league clubs are going to have to be willing to be a little bit more, I don’t know the word I’m looking for, but OK mindset-wise with those guys playing.”
The timing of the tournament, taking place in the middle of spring training when pitchers are typically ramping up for a 162-game schedule, left many MLB teams and pitchers not wanting to risk injury or fatigue ahead of the long season. That showed in the United States fielding lesser known names throughout the tournament.
For the title game, DeRosa went with Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Merrill Kelly, who was pulled after 1 1-3 innings after he allowed three hits, a run and walked two with a strikeout.
“I hated pulling Merrill right there, and I know he wasn’t happy about it,” DeRosa said. “But we were fully loaded in the ‘pen and I felt like we had to keep the game close in that situation.”
Munetaka Murakami followed up his walk-off, two-run double in Monday’s semifinal win over Mexico by blasting Kelly’s first-pitch 92.4 mph fastball into the upper deck in right field. The play gave Japan a 1-0 lead in the second.
In the fourth, Kazuma Okamota homered off reliever Kyle Freeland to make it 3-1.
U.S. pitchers had a 4.20 ERA in seven games, allowed eight home runs and a tournament-high 59 hits.
Commissioner Rob Manfred said Tuesday that MLB has looked at moving the WBC to a different time, such as after the playoffs or in the middle of the season, among other things, to persuade more owners and general managers to lend their high-priced pitchers to the tournament.
“From a competitive perspective, I think the most important thing is we’re going to need to continue to work, particularly with our clubs, about pitching,” Manfred said. “Obviously, it’s great the guys we’ve had, but I think that I’d like to see pitching staffs that are of the same quality as our position players.”