Sunday, March 15, 2009

Calm down about World Baseball Classic loss

So I didn't get to watch the World Baseball Classic game between the United States and Puerto Rico on Saturday night. When I woke up on Sunday morning, though, I had plenty to read about:

* From's Jon Heyman: This nation, the United States of America, doesn't need to await the verdict on its team. It looks very bad. ...

This surely is a nice Puerto Rican team, but it shouldn't dominate a U.S. team like this. ...

Even if the U.S. teams looked better on paper, it was no match on the field, where Puerto Rico dominated every facet. Puerto Rico's starting pitcher Javier Vazquez, who's known here as a solid innings eater who supposedly chokes in big games, pitched a solid five innings before four relievers shut down the vaunted U.S. lineup.

Pitching against a lineup of All Stars, Vazquez belied his rep and dominated the U.S. team. He was the pitcher the Braves acquired in trade when they failed to land their top choice, who happened to be (Jake) Peavy.

Peavy was gone after two innings. But the by the time he was out, the game was over, and his trade value had dropped precipitously.

From's Gerry Fraley: ... one of the darkest days in Team USA history.

* From Newsday's Ken Davidoff: This was supposed to be a leaner, meaner Team USA that partook in this second World Baseball Classic. A "team," with all of its positive connotations, that would avoid the slip-ups of its predecessor.

Last night at Dolphin Stadium, however, Team USA set a new low for ineptitude.

And I was left with one question: Isn't this, you know, baseball?

The best teams in the game lose 60 times a year. The best team in history -- at least, when you're judging by regular-season records -- lost 46 times, including five times by five or more runs. The worst team in history -- again, by regular-season records -- won 40 games, including, for example, a 13-2 shellacking of Houston in mid-June and a 10-4 beatdown a week later of a Los Angeles team that would go on to win more than 100 games.

Closer to home: The Red Sox won 95 games last season but, of course, still lost 67. They lost 17 games in blowout fashion, including a pair of butt-kickings delivered by Toronto (15-4 and 11-0) in a span lasting barely a week.

Yes, the United States lost to Puerto Rico on Saturday. Yes, it's embarrassing when the mercy rule is invoked on your behalf. But let's calm down and stop drawing broad, sweeping conclusions from one game. This still could be the leaner, meaner team that marches to a championship where the previous incarnation failed. It just isn't going to avoid having to deal with slip-ups.

After all, this is baseball.

Let's look specifically at Peavy. Critics everywhere are outraged that Peavy wasn't yanked before the game could get out of hand; others, like Heyman, are writing that Peavy's trade value has plummeted thanks to his spectacular flop on such a big stage.

Or, you know, not.

First of all, isn't it convenient 20-20 hindsight to go after Davey Johnson for failing to lift Peavy in the first or second inning? It is, after all, Peavy. The guy hasn't failed to pitch into the fourth inning in his entire big-league career. Could you really have made an argument, as everything was unfolding, that Peavy had less of a chance to keep his team close in the early going than Joel Freaking Hanrahan?

Second of all, it's baseball. Just look back at the track record of Peavy. Just two years ago, Peavy went 19-6 with a 2.54 ERA in winning the National League's Cy Young award; he struck out 240 and walked just 68, and opponents hit just .208 off him. That same year, though, he totally bombed in a late-season start at Arizona. He surrendered a two-run home run in the first inning, another home run in the fourth inning and then couldn't get an out in the fifth inning thanks to the three walks he issued to the first four batters he faced. (The fourth hit a triple.)

The reaction after that game -- a game in which Peavy was throwing on weird rest, just as he was on Saturday?

"I just didn't make a whole lot of good pitches," he said. "It was a bad night to a have a bad night. I felt great. Walking guys, getting behind; ... they had a lot of good at-bats, but I just didn't make good pitches."

That was it. No one's value dropped precipitously. No one's entire approach toward the game suddenly needed to be questioned. He had an awful night. He moved on. Matter of fact, he pitched seven strong innings in each of his next four starts.

It's baseball. You can't ever -- ever, ever, ever -- draw broad conclusions on the strength of one game. Maybe the United States really isn't taking the World Baseball Classic seriously enough. Maybe the American players don't feel enough national pride. Maybe Davey Johnson should have skipped the wedding he attended.

(More ridiculousness from Heyman: "It was Johnson who urged the team several days ago to commit fully to the team, and not treat it like an exhibition. But you have to wonder whether any of that message was lost in translation when Johnson missed Friday's practice, presumably for the rehearsal dinner.")

To draw all of those conclusions from one lousy game, though? Come on. We know baseball better than that, don't we?


floydiansea said...

Using the World Baseball Classic as a barometer for anything is like using the NHL to determine the results of the NFL. "You know, the Bruins weren't half bad. Should be a good sign for the Patriots."

Okay, maybe that's not fair.

But still ... it's the World Baseball Classic. It's one of the more useless exhibitions. And when any American can play for any other team because they found it on a map, or their mom once heard of it, or their name vaguely rhymes with a city in the nation ...

Let's just say that I don't exactly hold the WBC as meaningful. And I sure as hell wouldn't expect any player that knows that the regular season beckons, and the regular season DOES mean something, to exert themselves overly hard.

And I'm always right.

About everything.

Everyone knows this.

Brian MacPherson said...

Should have been watching last night. That's some fun baseball.