Bengie Molina hits for cycle, creates rip in time-space continuum

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We have witnessed many unlikely events already this season — Stephen Strasburg striking out 14 in his major league debut, four no-hitters, two perfect games, one almost perfect game, the first-place San Diego Padres and the National League actually winning an All-Star Game — but I can say without hesitation that Bengie Molina’s cycle against the Red Sox on Friday night was the most improbable of them all.

Molina was already 3-for-3 with a single, a double and a go-ahead grand slam when he came up to the plate in the top of the eighth inning. That’s a great night by anybody’s standards, but Molina wasn’t done. He proceeded to crank a long drive to distant center field, not far from where he hit his grand slam in the fifth inning. After the ball ricocheted off Eric Patterson’s glove and into Fenway’s famous nook in right center field, the notoriously slow-footed Molina legged out his sixth career triple and successfully completed the first cycle by a catcher since Chad Moeller on April 27, 2004.

Even more incredible, Molina is the eighth player and the first catcher to hit a grand slam and complete the cycle in the same game. It happened.

If you haven’t seen it already, I recommend watching the video footage here.

Here’s what Molina told T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com:

“This means a lot,” Molina said. “I’m not a stats guy; everybody who
knows me knows that. That’s an individual thing, but being one of the
slowest guys in the world, and being criticized for it all my career, to
be able to do something like that really makes me feel good.”

The fact that Molina was forced to leave the game immediately after the triple with a tight right quadriceps is rather appropriate. It’s like he was punished for messing with the cosmos or something.

Marcus Stroman named World Baseball Classic MVP

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United States starter Marcus Stroman was named Most Valuable Player of the World Baseball Classic after helping lead the U.S. to its first ever WBC title on Wednesday night in an 8-0 victory over Puerto Rico. Stroman flirted with a no-hitter through six innings, but gave up a double to lead off the seventh before being relieved by Sam Dyson.

Stroman also pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings against the Dominican Republic in Pool C play on March 11. He struggled in Pool F play against Puerto Rico last Friday, surrendering four runs in 4 2/3 innings.

The WBC MVP award understandably goes to a player of the winning team. However, Wladimir Balentien of the Netherlands deserves special mention. In 26 at-bats during the WBC, he hit a double and had a WBC-high four home runs, 12 RBI, and 12 runs scored while putting up a .615/.677/.1.115 batting line. That’s MVP-esque as far as this tournament is concerned.

U.S. blanks Puerto Rico 8-0 to win first World Baseball Classic title

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The United States handed Puerto Rico its first loss in the World Baseball Classic, winning 8-0 for its first title in the fourth iteration of the tournament.

Puerto Rico starter Seth Lugo was matching Marcus Stroman zero-for-zero through the first two innings, but the U.S. broke out for a pair of runs when Ian Kinsler deposited a two-run home run just beyond the fence in left-center at Dodger Stadium. The U.S. tacked on two more in the fifth on RBI singles from Christian Yelich and Andrew McCutchen, pushing the lead to 4-0.

Meanwhile, Stroman was dealing. The right-hander, normally seen in a Blue Jays uniform, held Puerto Rico hitless through his first six innings, giving up just a lone walk. The U.S. put together a long rally in the top of the seventh, scoring three runs on three hits, two walks, and a hit batter. Stroman came back out for the seventh but immediately served up a double down the left field line to Angel Pagan. U.S. manager Jim Leyland immediately lifted Stroman from the game, bringing in Sam Dyson who escaped the inning without any further damage.

Pat Neshek allowed a leadoff single to Yadier Molina to begin the eighth, but induced a double-play, then worked around a two-out walk by striking out Kenny Vargas to end the frame.

In the ninth, David Robertson took over. He induced an infield pop-up from Enrique Hernandez. After Pagan singled up the middle, Francisco Lindor sharply grounded out to Eric Hosmer at first base for the second out. Finally, Robertson closed it out, inducing Carlos Correa to ground out to third base, making the U.S. 8-0 victors over Puerto Rico to win the World Baseball Classic.

Puerto Rico had an admirable run, defeating Venezuela, Mexico, and Italy to get out of Pool D undefeated. Then, in Pool F, it beat Venezuela again as well as the U.S. and the Dominican Republic to move to the semifinals. It narrowly edged Netherlands 4-3 in the semifinals to get into the finals.

The U.S. lost to the D.R. but beat Canada and Colombia to get out of Pool C. In Pool F, the U.S. lost to Puerto Rico and defeated the D.R again as well as Venezuela. The U.S. took down Japan in the semifinals to advance to the finals to play Puerto Rico.

The U.S. joins Japan (twice, 2006 and ’09) and the Dominican Republic (2013) as countries to win the World Baseball Classic. The 2017 tournament was a rousing success, setting attendance records, drawing over one million fans to ballparks to take in the games. It will hopefully encourage commissioner Rob Manfred and others to make a concerted effort to make the 2021 tournament bigger and better.