USA's thrilling bottom-of-the-ninth, come-from-behind 6-5 victory last night over Puerto Rico not only qualified the USA team for the World Baseball Classic semifinals in Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium, it also vanquished the painful memories of PR's 11-1 mercy-rule-triggering spanking of the USA earlier in pool play.
The happiness on David Wright's face following his game-winning two-run RBI was obvious. And the dogpiles that followed looked just like a playoff game (which many of the USA team members have never experienced!).
And, of course, the win gives closer Jonathan Broxton (who picked up the win after pitching the ninth, despite the fact he allowed a run in the frame thanks to shortstop Derek Jeter's limited defensive range) the opportunity to play in Dodger Stadium in March. (Take that, Camelback Ranch losers!)
Depending on the results of today's "seeding" game against Venezuela, who will also advance, the USA team will either play Saturday March 21 or Sunday March 22 in a semifinal match, against either Korea or the winner of the Japan / Cuba game tonight.
In all seriousness, I know the WBC is challenged. Attendance for this game, an elimination game set in Miami, drew fewer fans than a typical Marlins game (which is already pretty sparse in attendance; Miami retirees do not want to spend a summer night outside in the humid and mosquito-filled air). Media coverage is spotty at best, with even the WBC games themselves popping up on ESPN Deportes, ESPN Classic (I kid you not), and the newly-created MLB Network. Many MLB players aren't interested in playing, and MLB teams aren't thrilled watching their players wear out their arms (see: Daisuke Matsuzaka) or get injured (see: Chipper Jones).
But last night's win had Olympics-level drama, and, like the Olympics, I got sucked in despite the fact that I wasn't that interested in the event to begin with. I mean, this was a pretty dramatic bottom of the ninth. So much so, that if it was the NBA, I'd chock this up to the sport being fixed. But that's baseball, and things like that comeback can and do happen.
There is something inherently compelling about nationals playing for the pride of their country, and the elimination games are exciting despite the fact that the pool play format is arcane and confusing.
I don't know if the WBC has staying appeal--it sounds like the jury is still out--so this Dodger Stadium coda will end up being pretty important for the future of the event. I'm hoping the USA's advancement to the final round stokes the fires so we can at least give the WBC a fighting chance at public trial, if not yet outright acceptance.
Let's go, USA!
UPDATE 1:30p: Delino and I may be going to the WBC this weekend. Please comment if you're planning on attending as well (specifying which game)...