Rays advance to postseason with 12th-inning win, Red Sox loss

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The Rays beat the Yankees 8-7 in the 12th inning on an Evan Longoria walkoff homer Wednesday, while the Red Sox fell to the Orioles 4-3 after Jonathan Papelbon gave up two ninth-inning runs.

Tampa Bay’s win came after a furious six-run eighth and a Dan Johnson homer with two outs in the ninth ruined a 7-0 Yankees lead.  Left with just Scott Proctor — their 11th pitcher of the game — in the bullpen the Yankees lost it in the 12th.  Proctor did an admirable job for someone with an 10.80 ERA, pitching 2 2/3 scoreless innings prior to Longoria’s homer.

In Baltimore, Papelbon, who worked 2 1/3 innings on Sunday and had a difficult ninth inning Tuesday, appeared to simply run out of gas.  He gave up two doubles with two outs, tying the game.  Robert Andino then hit a low liner to left that Carl Crawford appeared to have a play on.  Of course, Crawford, as he has all season long, came up just a little short and had no chance of throwing out Nolan Reimold at the plate after playing the one-hopper.

The loss completed a season-ending run that saw the Red Sox go 7-19 and lose a nine-game lead over Tampa Bay.

The story from the Red Sox fan viewpoint will be how the Orioles gave it their all and the Yankees, Mark Teixeira excepted, did anything but. It’s also worth noting how terribly Terry Francona used his bench down the stretch. The Red Sox didn’t send up one pinch-hitter in this game.  Francona allowed J.D. Drew to face a lefty with two men on in the fifth (he flied out to end the inning) and he let Ryan Lavarnway go 0-for-5 (with nine men on base) even though there were lefties to hit for him against right-handers late.

So, it’s the Rays who move on to face the Rangers on Friday, while the Tigers will travel to New York. Stifled for seven innings — they managed just two hits against the dregs of the Yankees pitching staff — the Rays, to their credit, did their battling back under extreme duress against genuine major league pitchers.  Luis Ayala, who was torched in the eighth inning, entered with a 1.64 ERA in 55 innings, and Cory Wade, who gave up the run in the ninth, had a 1.85 ERA.  They were the Yankees’ low-leverage guys this season, but both had been excellent.

For the Red Sox, it it was Papelbon’s last appearance with the team, it was a dreadful one. He and David Ortiz are among the team’s key free agents, and it’s unclear if the Red Sox will want to commit to making Papelbon one of the game’s highest-paid closers for the next three or four years.  Papelbon had just one blown save all season until taking two in his last three chances, both of which resulted in losses.

Francona’s status is also very much in doubt. Letting go of their two-time World Series-winning manager would by a drastic step for the Red Sox, but it’s one that could be considered. Technically, they wouldn’t even have to fire him, since his contract is up anyway.

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.