The Rays’ all just wasn’t quite enough

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The Rays used 22 of their 25 players in Tuesday’s loss, and they were one inning away from turning to their Game 5 starter. Still, no matter how much Joe Maddon maneuvered, there was no outgunning the Red Sox this week.

It was plenty close. The Rays got the break they needed in the second inning, when Stephen Drew’s near-three-run double was instead turned into an inning-ending double play by a leaping James Loney. With Jeremy Hellickson and Jamey Wright done after two, Maddon relied on lefties Matt Moore and Alex Torres to hold the fort for the late-game relievers. The Red Sox, better set up to face a righty with Daniel Nava, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Stephen Drew hitting consecutively, couldn’t get a rally going.

Alas, the Red Sox were able to outlast the Rays, even after Tampa Bay scored first. I was critical last night when Sox skipper John Farrell used Craig Breslow and Junichi Tazawa for just two batters apiece, but that meant Boston’s big three was fresher tonight than the Rays’ top three of Jake McGee, Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney. It was Peralta the Red Sox broke through against, though the two runs were charged to Peralta. Rodney allowed another in the ninth.

Meanwhile, Breslow, Tazawa and closer Koji Uehara combined to allow one hit and strike out seven in 3 1/3 scoreless innings for the Red Sox. Breslow was particularly outstanding, fanning four in a row and getting five outs in all.

Give the Rays credit, though. It was a terrific effort, with nine pitchers throwing nine innings. Had it gone to the 10th, David Price was coming in, and the Rays just would have figured out Game 5 later.

Now it could be another harsh offseason for the Rays. Attendance didn’t increase as hope, so the payroll probably won’t add much from the usual $60 million-$65 million. Price’s salary will jump from $10 million to $15 million or so in arbitration, which could mean he’s made his final start for the club. James Loney figures to be too expensive to retain, so the Rays will have to dip back into the bargain bin at first base again. Rodney also seems certain to exit, as will several role players.

Still, even without Price, the Rays could put out a rotation of Alex Cobb, Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi, and Price will likely bring back another Wil Myers-type prospect to integrate into the lineup, plus perhaps another young pitcher or two. Despite the modest payroll, there will be no writing off the Rays anytime soon. Price or no, they’ll be back to scare the pants off the Red Sox and the rest of the AL’s heavy hitters again next season.

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.