The 10 best moments from the 2017 World Baseball Classic – MLB.com
In its fourth iteration, the World Baseball Classic proved to any and all doubters the sheer awesome power of an international baseball competition. With record-setting attendance, exciting play and big moments that likely put a strain on Twitter’s servers when every baseball fan needed to shout “WOW” into the void, 2017’s tournament may have been the best one yet.
Now that it’s over, and with 10 days to go until Opening Day, let’s say goodbye to the Classic with 10 of the very best, brightest and most exciting moments.
10. Wladimir Balentien is a very strong man
While Balentien’s swings are big, somehow his home run celebrations are even bigger — like a WWE wrestler walking into the arena while his intro music plays.
His biggest moment in the Classic came when he crushed the ball against Puerto Rico in the semifinal. Though the Netherlands would go on to lose, 4-3, you certainly can’t blame the outfielder for lack of desire.
9. Jose Quintana helps prove Colombia is for real
Quintana made sure Colombia announced itself with authority in its first World Baseball Classic. The White Sox de facto ace no-hit the U.S. until the sixth inning on the strength of his deceptively powerful low-90s fastball. A passed ball and Adam Jones‘ bloop single were all that stood in the way of Colombia’s upset of the eventual champs.
Not content to stop there, Colombia nearly toppled Pool C’s other powerhouse in the Dominican Republic. If not for Jose Bautista‘s bottom-of-the-ninth, game-saving throw (and, presumably, those meddling kids), Colombia would have done it, too.
8. Alfredo Despaigne’s grand slam
If you want the image of an intimidating batter at the plate, it’s hard to find a better example than Despaigne, who won the Classic’s Pool A MVP Award in 2013. Facing Australia in a must-win game to advance out of Pool B, Despaigne proved that his bulging muscles seemingly ready to burst out of his uniform weren’t just for show.
With Australia leading, 1-0, in the bottom of the fifth, Despaigne came to the plate with the bases loaded. With one monstrous swing, all that changed. His point to the bench was even better than any bat flip could ever dream to be.
7. Javier Baez doesn’t even need to see you to tag you
Running against the cannon-armed Yadier Molina isn’t a great decision for the fastest of baserunners, much less 36-year-old DHs eight years removed from a 20/20 season. When human tag machine Javier Baez is on the other side of those throws, it makes even less sense.
With the Dominican Republic trailing, 3-1, in the top of the eighth, Nelson Cruz tried to get into scoring position. Too excited to even wait until the ball was in his glove, Baez began celebrating as Molina’s throw was in the air. Pure exuberance mixed with ability — this play is a perfect summation of Baez’s on-field style.
6. Tetsuto Yamada goes deep twice
Team Japan provided plenty of firepower, with Yoshitomo Tsutsugoh and Sho Nakata both going deep three times.
Though Yamada, the only player to ever lead the NPB in home runs and stolen bases in the same season, only hit two, he made sure his dingers were of the most importance. Facing Cuba in the second round, Yamada — and his artful leg kick — led off the bottom of the first with a dome-scraping blast to left field.
Then, with Japan leading, 6-5, in the bottom of the eighth, the infielder gave Japan all the breathing room it would need:
5. Italy pulls off the most unexpected of comebacks
If we’re talking big moments, none were bigger than Japhet Amador‘s home run in the fourth inning against Italy:
But most memorable? Italy takes that one. Trailing Mexico, 9-5, entering the ninth inning, it looked like Italy would start its Classic with a loss — especially with Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna entering the game. That would not be the case.
Three consecutive doubles, an error, a walk and two more singles — sandwiched around a pitching change — meant that Italy had taken the game with nary an out being recorded. This would prove important as it was the difference between Italy, and not Mexico, playing Venezuela in the Round 1 tiebreaker.
4. Rougned Odor‘s bat-flip single
Naturally, Italy would soon be felled by another comeback. Facing Venezuela in the Pool D tiebreaker, Italy held a narrow 2-1 lead when a man whose swing is spoken of in hushed whispers all across the globe stepped to the plate: Miguel Cabrera.
After fouling off Mike DeMark’s first offering, he put the next one into the outfield seats to tie the game:
After Victor Martinez walked and was replaced on the bases by Yangervis Solarte, Odor gave one of the most emphatic and artful bat flips you may ever see. Only problem: It wasn’t a home run.
3. Marcus Stroman shimmies his way to the MVP
In the USA’s first World Baseball Classic final, the U.S. not only had to face 2013’s runner-up, but the last undefeated team in the competition: Puerto Rico. Known as Team Rubio (Team Blonde in Spanish), the team had already defeated the Americans, 6-5, in the second round.
Stroman ensured the U.S. would not lose again. With a demonstrative performance — both with his fastball and his actions whenever he walked off the mound following another 1-2-3 inning — Stroman dominated Puerto Rico.
Against Puerto Rico’s stacked lineup, Stroman pitched six no-hit innings until Angel Pagan hit a liner into left field to erase one zero from the board. Thanks in part to Stroman, Puerto Rico would never put one in the run column.
2. Nelson Cruz’s most exciting of home runs
With a packed house in Miami for the Dominican Republic’s matchup against the U.S. in the first round of the Classic, the U.S. held a 5-3 lead heading into the bottom of the eighth. Holding that lead against a team with as much firepower as the Dominicans would be difficult, so Jim Leyland called for relief ace Andrew Miller. That would prove little solace.
After hitting Bautista and surrendering an infield single to Carlos Santana, Cruz stepped to the plate and launched the ball into orbit.
Cruz made sure everyone in attendance knew country pride was at stake, too:
1. Adam Jones’ home run robbery was pure art
In the United States’ rematch against the Dominican Republic that would determine who moved on to the semifinal, it appeared that Giancarlo Stanton‘s massive home run would be the defining moment of the game. That was not the case.
Leading, 4-2, in the bottom of the seventh, Jones sprinted with the swiftness of the wind as he chased down Manny Machado‘s massive blast into right-center.
With a last-second leap, his arms stretched as far as possible, Jones corralled the ball and put away his Orioles teammate.
It’s a moment that will live on in World Baseball Classic history and remain seared into the eyes of everyone who watched it.