LOS ANGELES — A pitcher from a Canadian club, who could have suited up for Puerto Rico, was the United States’ hero in the championship game of the World Baseball Classic.
Marcus Stroman had the opportunity to pitch for the opponent, because his mother is of Puerto Rican heritage, but instead led the way in giving the USA its first WBC title in the fourth iteration of the tournament.
The Toronto Blue Jays starter was simply dominating in leading the United States to an 8-0 victory in the winner-take-all contest. He carried a no-hitter after six innings and had faced the minimum 18 batters before Angel Pagan opened the seventh with a single.
Stroman was immediately removed from the game by USA manager Jim Leyland as his pitch count reached 73. The limit for pitches in the championship round was 95, but Leyland has remained respectful to clubs by not overusing pitchers in the tournament.
The United States club ran through a daunting series of opponents in taking the title. They had to first triumph in a winner-take-all second-round elimination game Saturday against defending champion Dominican Republic.
Japan awaited in the semifinals Tuesday, but was handed its first loss of the tournament — a 2-1 Team USA victory. In the United States’ only other WBC semifinal appearance in 2009, the Americans were defeated by Japan.
In Wednesday’s championship game, the United States got through a Puerto Rico club that had been 7-0 in the WBC to that point. Stroman was simply dominating — inducing weak contact on ground balls and walking only one batter that was wiped from the bases on a second-inning double play.
Three things to know:
1. Revenge for Stroman
Stroman could not overcome Puerto Rico in the second round. The right-hander took the loss, giving up six consecutive singles to Puerto Rico that day and four first-inning runs.
Stroman did settle down in that one, though, going his final 4⅔ innings without allowing a run, giving him some momentum heading into Wednesday’s outing.
The Blue Jays’ pitcher also fared well in the first round against the Dominican Republic with 4⅔ innings, giving him a dominating WBC outside of that first inning against Puerto Rico in Round 2.
The former first-round draft pick has a 3.91 ERA over three seasons, going 9-10 with a 4.37 ERA for the Blue Jays last season.
2. Controversy followed Kinsler into the championship game, but it didn’t affect his performance
Prior to the game, Kinsler was quoted in The New York Times trying to say that the United States’ more stoic style of play should not be ignored. It was taken by some as a knock on the energetic styles of Puerto and the Dominican Republic.
Before the game, Kinsler offered a clarification of the quote to ESPN’s Marly Rivera, saying, in part, “Everybody has their own style. That’s all I was saying.”
The situation did not seem to be a distraction to the veteran infielder, who hit his two-run home run in his first at-bat. He later added a single and another run scored.
“This is what this tournament is for, to demonstrate the game in all walks of life, all over the globe,” Kinsler said. “… Everyone should be celebrated.”
3. Team USA’s Nolan Arenado was a contributor on defense and not much else
Arenado struck out in his first two at-bats in the title game, giving him a stretch of seven consecutive at-bats in the tournament with a strikeout, going back to the second round. The streak started after he hit into a double play in USA’s victory over the Dominican Republic on Saturday, and ended when he failed to move a runner over on a bunt attempt in the fifth inning.
The Colorado Rockies‘ star did deliver a single in the seventh inning, breaking an 0-for-11 slide.
USA manager Jim Leyland never wavered in using Arenado, the Gold Glove winner, who gave the USA some lock-down defense on the left side of the infield with shortstop Brandon Crawford.