One thing was certain Wednesday evening: A new World Baseball Classic champion would be crowned. Ian Kinsler and Marcus Stroman were the stars in ensuring that title went to Team USA, leading the Americans to an 8-0 victory over previously undefeated Puerto Rico in the championship game.
Team USA had to go through every team that had won the tournament in the past, first downing the Dominican Republic, the defending champion, to gain its second semifinal berth in the fourth edition of the Classic. Two-time champion Japan then fell to the United States in Tuesday’s semifinal.
Next up was Puerto Rico, the best hitting team in the tournament and 6-5 victors in the March 17 encounter between the two in the second round of pool play. Stroman took the loss in that contest, giving up eight hits, but Wednesday he was flawless. Keeping his fast ball low and luring hitters into ground ball outs, the Toronto Blue Jay wove a sparkling pitching performance, holding the Puerto Ricans hitless through six full innings while striking out three and allowing only one walk. When Angel Pagan led off the seventh inning with a double down the third base line, Stroman headed off to the bullpen and the trio of Sam Dyson, Pat Neshek and David Robertson each pitched a clean inning to take the game to the finish.
While Stroman kept the Puerto Rican bats silent to level his tournament record at 1-1, Kinsler opened the scoring in the third inning with a home run to center field that scored Jonathan Lucroy, who had led off the inning with a single.
Showing the versatility of its lineup, Team USA played small ball in the fifth inning, stringing together a handful of singles and infield grounders to manufacture another pair of runs. After leading off with a single, Kinsler scored on a Christian Yelich RBI line drive. Two outs later, Yelich scored on another single, this time from Andrew McCutchen to make the score 4-0 midway through the contest.
Team USA put the game out of reach in the seventh inning when Brandon Crawford’s two-out single drove in Nolan Arenado and Eric Hosmer. McCutchen then scored on a Giancarlo Stanton single to push the lead to 7-0. One inning later, McCutchen picked up an RBI when he singled to plate Nolan Arenado for the final 8-0 score.