Mark Mulder credits Paco Rodriguez for spurring his comeback attempt

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MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez has a wonderful piece up in which he details Mark Mulder’s attempt to make a comeback in 2014 after nearly six years since he last pitched in the Majors. The whole story borders on too improbable to believe, but perhaps the most interesting part of the story is how the comeback attempt was conceived:

Mulder calls his decision to pitch again “a flat-out fluke.” Some may call it divine intervention.

It happened on a random October night in the living room of his Phoenix home, when Mulder watched Dodgers reliever Paco Rodriguez pitch, acted out what it would feel like to separate his hands much higher upon his delivery, and came away intrigued.

A couple nights later, he grabbed a rubber baseball, went out to his backyard, handed his wife a cell phone and had her record footage of him repeatedly throwing pitches against the wall.

“And I was amazed that my arm was working the right way,” Mulder said. “I never gave it a thought of coming back before then — furthest thing from my mind, to be honest with you.”

If Mulder makes the Angels’ 25-man roster out of spring training, he will earn $1 million and could earn as much as $6 million in incentives. It appeared that his start on July 9, 2008 at Citizens Bank Park would be the final start of the lefty’s career. After striking out Jimmy Rollins on eight pitches, he issued back-to-back four-pitch walks to Shane Victorino and Chase Utley before walking off the field.

Since then, he hasn’t appeared in the Minors or in an independent league. Instead, he tried his hand at professional golf and became an analyst for ESPN, content to move on from his playing career. Few would have believed Mulder would attempt to reinvent himself for a comeback at the age of 36 in 2014.

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.