Puerto Rico defeats Venezuela, clinches second round berth

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In World Baseball Classic Pool C action, Puerto Rico emerged victorious over Venezuela 6-3. Starters Carlos Zambrano for Venezuela and Nelson Figueroa for Puerto Rico matched, each allowing two runs in their respective 3.2 and 4-inning outings.

Venezuela got on the board first, scoring two in the bottom of the third inning. With one out, Omar Infante doubled, then was driven home when Marco Scutaro singled to left field. Later in the inning, with two outs and runners on first and second, Pablo Sandoval doubled to right scoring Scutaro. Asdrubal Cabrera attempted to score as well, but was thrown out at home.

Puerto Rico quickly responded in the top of the fourth. Angel Pagan led off with a double. However, he was quickly erased attempting to advance to third on a ground ball as first baseman Miguel Cabrera fired over to Sandoval for the tag. Zambrano began to get wild, walking Alex Rios to put runners on first and second. He then uncorked a wild pitch, allowing both runners to advance. He got Carlos Beltran to ground out to first for the second out, but walked Yadier Molina to load the bases, the final straw. Zambrano was replaced by reliever Enrique Gonzalez, who promptly allowed a single to Mike Aviles, scoring Irving Falu and Rios. The slow-moving Molina was thrown out at third base by center fielder Gerardo Parra, ending the inning.

The tie was broken by Puerto Rico in the top of the fifth against Henderson Alvarez. Martin Maldonado walked, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt, then scored on a two-out RBI single to center by Pagan. Puerto Rico broke the game open in the eighth when Alvarez allowed the first two batters he faced to reach base, hitting Rios and a single to Beltran. Juan Rincon entered to try and put out the fire, but Molina singled to right to load the bases. Aviles then plated Rios with a sacrifice fly to center. Venezuela brought in Cesar Jimenez, who struck out Carlos Rivera, then called on Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez to get the final out. With a 3-1 count, Luis Figueroa doubled to right, scoring Beltran and Molina to extend the lead to three runs.

Venezuela was unable to mount any offensive threat between the fourth and eighth innings, but attempted a ninth-inning comeback against J.C. Romero. With one out, Salvador Perez and Martin Prado hit back-to-back doubles, bringing the score to 6-3. Fernando Cabrera relieved Romero and ended the threat, retiring Miguel Montero and Infante in the final frame.

Puerto Rico’s win clinches second round appearances for both themselves and the Dominican Republic as both teams are 2-0 while Venezuela and Spain sit at 0-2. Spain and Venezuela match up tomorrow at 12:30 PM ET. Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic will match up and play for seeding at 7:30 PM ET. The winner will play the runner-up of Pool D in the second round while the loser will play the winner of Pool D.

Javier Baez: “This is a game. It’s not as serious as a lot of people take it.”

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Infielder Javier Baez is back in camp with the Cubs after helping Puerto Rico to a second-place finish in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. He was the focal point of what was, to many, the most memorable play of the entire tournament: Baez pointed at catcher Yadier Molina, who was attempting to throw out a would-be base-stealer, before applying the tag for the final out of the eighth inning.

While Baez didn’t receive much criticism for his theatrics, aside from an insignificant handful of spoilsports, he is one of the players who most exemplifies the emotional, celebratory culture that foreign players bring to Major League Baseball. U.S. (and Tigers) second baseman Ian Kinsler is on the other side of that spectrum, as he said prior to the WBC final that he hopes kids mimic the solemn way U.S. players play the game rather than the emotional, passionate way players from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic play the game.

Baez isn’t about to apologize for the way he and his teammates play the game. Via CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney, Baez said, “We do a great job playing and having fun out there. That’s what it’s all about. This is a game. It’s not as serious as a lot of people take it. but, you know, everybody’s got their style and their talent. I have a lot of fun.”

He continued, “It’s their choice to look at how we play, how excited we get. To us, it’s really huge what we did, even though we didn’t win. All of Puerto Rico got really together. We were going through a hard time over there and everything got fixed up for at least three weeks. Hopefully, they keep it like that.”

Mike Trout proposes change to spring training umpiring

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Angels outfielder Mike Trout came up with an idea that would allow less experienced umpires an opportunity to call some major league spring training action. As ESPN’s Buster Olney reports, Trout thinks the veteran umpires should only call five or six innings as they get back into regular season shape. The rest of the innings could be called by minor league umpires.

According to Olney, baseball officials loved Trout’s idea when they heard about it last week. One official said, “It makes a lot of sense for a lot of different reasons.” Another said, “That’s Trout — he’s always paying attention to stuff beyond what he’s doing.”

Of course, I have to agree that the suggestion is a great one. As Olney notes, the turnover rate for umpires every year is relatively low, so younger, less-experienced umpires have few opportunities to get a feel for what it’s like calling major league action. Even beyond the actual interpretation of the rules, interacting with big league personalities would also be helpful for minor league umpires.