Author: Matthew Pouliot

Puerto Rico's Giancarlo Alvarado pitches against Italy in the 1st inning of a 2013 World Baseball Classic game at Marlins Stadium in Miami

Puerto Rico rallies in eighth to eliminate Italy from WBC


Puerto Rico scored three times in the bottom of the eighth to beat Italy 4-3 and keep its World Baseball Classic hopes alive on Wednesday night.

Italy was eliminated after losing its second straight game.

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo put Italy on the board in the fifth, delivering a bases-loaded double that plated three runs. That was all the offense could muster, though, and it proved to be insufficient after poor defense led to a run in the sixth and an awful managing decision and some additional lousy glovework opened the door for a rally in the eighth.

Puerto Rico had its big guns due up in the eighth, with Carlos Beltran being followed by Yadier Molina, Mike Aviles and Alex Rios. The obvious decision should have been to go to Jason Grilli, Italy’s one major league pitcher, with the hopes that Brian Sweeney or someone else could have handled the lesser lights in the ninth.

Instead, Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez decided to save Grilli for the ninth. Chris Cooper, who had pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings, stayed in to face Beltran, walked him on four pitches and was pulled. Nick Pugilese then gave up a hit to Molina. Sweeney came in and retired one of the two batters he faced. Finally, Pat Venditte came in and surrendered the lead. With no ninth-inning rally forthcoming, Italy lost without ever using its best pitcher.

Puerto Rico will now face the loser of Thursday’s U.S.-Dominican Republic matchup. The winner of both games will clinch spots in the semifinals.

Report: MLB not interested in tiered steroid penalties

Bud Selig AP
16 Comments’s Ken Rosenthal reports that MLB has shot down a union plan that would set up different penalties for those who test positive for perf0rmance-enhancing drugs.

While the current system calls for a 50-game ban for a first violation, 100 games for a second a lifetime ban for a third, the union is reportedly open to harsher penalties for intended cheaters. One possibility for such a harsher penalty would be a one-year ban for a first violation and a lifetime ban for a second.

However, the only way the union would go that route is if the door was still open for unintended violators to serve lesser penalties. If a player could demonstrate that his positive test was the result of a tainted supplement, then the punishment could revert to 50 games.

Personally, I’m all for such a system; it’s fine to let the true cheaters rot if the door can be left ajar for someone who wasn’t necessarily trying to game the system. MLB, however, views such a plan as a non-starter, according to Rosenthal.

Baseball views different sets of punishments as impractical, sources say, believing it would be difficult to establish which players used intentionally and which did not.

To some players, the distinction is important, but baseball considers “strict liability” an important part of its program. Under strict liability, a person is responsible for his offense regardless of culpability.

Yes, it would be difficult to establish. But it’d also be worth it to try. A fringe player could essentially have his career ended by a one-year ban. Even if you can’t get it right all of the time, it’d still be worth adding that shade of grey to separate the black and white.

Anyway, such an idea seems out for now. Which likely means that union will be disinclined to any sort of changes to the current rules until the collective-bargaining agreement expires after 2016.

Robinson Cano, Jose Reyes power Dominican Republic past Italy

Dominican Republic's Cano greets teammates after defeating Italy in their World Baseball Classic game in Miami

Trying to pull off another stunner, Italy jumped out early against the Dominican Republic on Tuesday, only to see its 4-0 lead whittled away in a 5-4 loss.

After Dominican starter Edinson Volquez at one point threw 11 straight balls in the first, Alex Liddi hit a sac fly and Chris Colabello followed with a three-run homer. Volquez, though, rebounded from there, pitching into the fifth and keeping the game within reach for the powerful Dominican offense.

Jose Reyes got the Dominicans on the board with a solo shot in the third, and Robinson Cano, who finished 3-for-4, delivered another in the sixth.

The key play in the game came with two on and one out in the seventh. With Reyes and Erick Aybar about and one out, Cano lofted a fly to shallow left. Left fielder Mike Costanzo froze initially and couldn’t get to it. Shortstop Anthony Granato almost grabbed it on the run, only to have it go off his glove for what was originally ruled a very tough error. It was later changed to hit.

That loaded the bases for Edwin Encarnacion, who walked. Hanley Ramirez followed with a game-tying sac fly, and Nelson Cruz delivered a broken-bat liner into shallow left for an RBI single, giving the Dominican Republic its first lead.

Santiago Casilla and Fernando Rodney finished the game from there. The Dominican bullpen allowed a total of one hit over 4 2/3 scoreless innings.

The Dominican Republic will now face the winner of the Team USA and Puerto Rico game for a spot in the WBC semifinals. Italy goes into the loser’s bracket in this modified double-elimination tourney.

Overcoming Torre is Team USA’s biggest win yet

Joe Torre

Four sacrifice bunt attempts in one game.

I’d be pretty disgusted if it were the Marlins trying such a thing to beat the Mets in mid-August. But, no, that’s what Team USA did on Sunday on its way to topping Canada 9-4.

Technically, it will go into the books at three sacrifice bunt attempts, since Shane Victorino merely fouled back his one attempt before later striking out in the seventh. The first two were successful, the second especially so. The first, coming in the second, was put down by Adam Jones with two on and none out. No runs followed, though. Ben Zobrist’s bunt in the fourth resulted in a Taylor Green error, scoring a run and opening the door for a two-run inning.

The last bunt was a huge flop, with Zobrist popping one up for the first out in the eighth. Fortunately, Jones bailed the team out afterwards, delivering a two-run double to put Team USA on top for good.

So, yes, everything worked out in the end. Even though Joe Torre’s team tried to give away four outs. Even though Giancarlo Stanton, the country’s (and maybe the world’s) best power hitter, sat out in favor of Shane Victorino. Even though Torre was more worried about making sure everyone got into the game than trying to win it.

And that last part may be the biggest problem of all. Joe Torre works for Major League Baseball. He made commitments to teams in return for acquiring the services of players. While the managers of Japan and the Dominican Republic are doing the best they can, within the WBC’s pitcher usage rules, to win their games, Torre is going above and beyond; making sure everyone gets a turn, not using a reliever after he’s already warmed up once and not letting any of his true relievers pitch more than an inning.

Of course, Torre isn’t exactly a tactical genius even when he doesn’t have to deal with such limitations. Witness today’s eighth-inning gem to intentionally walk light-hitting left-hander Pete Orr in a 5-4 game to load the bases for a left-handed-hitting pinch-hitter. Given that it meant a walk could force in a run, I doubt it improved the U.S.’s chances of staying ahead in the eighth. What it definitely did do is guarantee that Joey Votto would bat in the ninth, with Justin Morneau due up fourth, something that might have made a big difference had the U.S. offense not finally found itself and, absent any sac bunt attempts, piled on four runs in the top of the inning.

At age 73, this is probably Torre’s last time in a dugout. He was pretty close to a Hall of Famer as a player and he’s certainly going in as a manager after all of his success with the Yankees. And deservedly so. It’d be a nice victory lap for him if Team USA could somehow win the World Baseball Classic in its third try. Torre, though, needs to back off a bit, because he’s really hurting the cause right now.