Taking WBC seriously, Team USA advances to 2nd round
AP Sports Writer
MIAMI — Andrew Miller said yes to taking part in the World Baseball Classic when many other top U.S. pitchers said no, including Clayton Kershaw, Noah Syndergaard and Justin Verlander.
As a reward for showing up, Miller gave up two home runs in an inning for the first time since 2011. That fueled a comeback by the Dominican Republic, which rallied from a five-run deficit to beat the U.S. team, delighting a raucous sellout crowd.
An hour after his dismal WBC debut, Miller said he didn’t regret deciding to participate.
“I want to pitch in this atmosphere,” the Indians’ All-Star closer said. “I want to get better at pitching in games like this. I want to play on teams like this. I want to play against lineups like that. At this point in my career, this is the fun stuff you get a chance to take part in.
“Honestly, I never would have thought a couple of years ago I would have had an opportunity to make a roster like this. It’s a special thing you get to participate in. I wish I had performed better, and I hope I get some chances to atone for it.”
He will. The Americans bounced back from their deflating loss Saturday to the defending champion Dominicans, and both teams advanced to the second round in San Diego beginning Tuesday.
Team USA, a perennial World Baseball Classic underachiever, believes this year will be different. The Americans have never reached the finals, much less won the tournament, and participation has been only so-so because of tepid support by major league teams fearful of injuries to players unaccustomed to going all-out in March.
But this year’s roster might be the Americans’ best yet, even without many top pitchers. Starters Danny Duffy, Chris Archer and Marcus Stroman combined for 12 2/3 scoreless innings as Team USA went 2-1 in round one. Brandon Crawford and Christian Yelich had five hits each, and Nolan Arenado and Buster Posey homered.
The Dominicans, meanwhile, went 3-0 and are 11-0 in the past two WBCs. Their comeback win over the U.S. team rocked Marlins Park, packed with spectators from the Caribbean nation.
“That’s an atmosphere I’ve never been a part of,” said Duffy, who pitched in the 2015 World Series. “It was the loudest I’ve ever heard any place ever.”
Enthusiastic fan support by other countries is one reason Duffy, Miller and other American players are glad they’re taking part.
But can the U.S. team get spectators in San Diego excited?
“If we keep playing our game and keep doing our thing, I think we’re going to start drawing some crowds,” Arenado said.
The Rockies All-Star made headlines back in Denver when he slid headfirst to reach first base after striking out on a wild pitch against Colombia. He laughed when asked how eager the Americans are for breakthrough WBC success.
“There’s no doubt we’re taking it real serious,” he said. I’m diving headfirst into first. I mean, I don’t know how serious I can take it other than that.”
Maximum effort will be needed to get past the Dominicans, who have outscored opponents 62-24 in the past two WBCs. They batted .342 in the first round, and Manny Machado, Nelson Cruz and Sterling Marte homered in the comeback against Team USA.
“The Dominican is a top-to-bottom fearsome lineup,” U.S. manager Jim Leyland said. “They have stars all over the field. We’ve got a lot of stars all over the field. There’s a mutual respect there, I think. It wasn’t like we were intimidated or embarrassed. We had our shot, and we just didn’t quite get it done.”
After losing to the Dominicans, Team USA recovered Sunday and eliminated Canada. The Canadians finished 0-3, but manager Ernie Whitt nonetheless joined other participants in praising the WBC.
Whitt noted the enthusiastic crowds and said he’s dumbfounded” some major league players are reluctant to take part.
“You have to get the general managers and the ownership to buy into it and encourage their players to go,” said Whitt, a former All-Star catcher. “I understand their point. They have a vested interest in some of these players with a lot of money. But if they’re going to get this to go, they’re going to have to go all out and encourage their players to go play for their countries.”
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Amid hundreds of cleat-footed little leaguers casually gathered along the first baseline, the glare of parents’ sunglasses deflecting the early morning sun, coach Troy Phillips began a trip down memory lane.