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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Recap of World Baseball Classic - Mexico vs. USA

I just got back from the Mexico/USA WBC game. It was a blast. I've never been to a playoff game or an Olympic event, and I'd guess this was something of a cross between the two. I arrived at the ballpark around noon to buy my ticket, and spent a half hour or so wandering around watching the spectacle. The Mexican fans were out in force, wearing Jerseys and huge pained sombreros and wielding Mexican flags and noisemakers. There was a lot of spontaneous cheering/screaming…great atmosphere.

My ticket was in the upper deck, more or less behind home plate. I was about 6 rows back, and there was a good number of people around me (though the game was clearly not a sellout). Just before the playing of the national anthems, they had a moment of silence for Kirby Puckett. It was eerily quiet given how loud everyone had been moments earlier. After about 15 seconds, someone (in poor form) started screaming "USA!!", but right afterwards I clearly heard some yell out "We love you Kirbie!!" Special moment.

The player introductions were fun. The Mexicans clearly worship Vinny Castilla; the only player who got anything close to that sort of reception was Fernando Valenzuela, although they gave Estaban Loiza a pretty good cheer. It seems that no one knows who Oliver Perez is, however, as he got as much cheering from the crowd as Mexico's equipment manager.

The game started with a very questionable scoring decision when Chase Utley booted a routine grounder, but afterwards settled down into a good pitchers' duel. Sort of. Team USA honestly looked pretty rusty, with Jeter's error (and Chase's apparent…misplay at least), very few good swings, and lots of first pitch hitting (nothing like flying out on the first pitch of the game Johnny D). The best at-bat of the game was by Griffey in the first inning, when he saw 11 pitches in drawing the walk. But unless Mexico's pitching was mind-boggling good (I think it's solid, but not great), USA is going to have to get their bats going in order to compete.

USA's pitching was very solid. Wheeler might have been struggling a little bit with two well-hit balls given up to Gil and Valenzuela (Valenzuela had looked positively overmatched in his previous at-bat). But ultimately, it seemed like the game came down to Mexico's very weak offense. Castilla and Durazo are ok hitters, but aside from that there's really nothing there. Against USA's pitching they didn't really seem to stand a chance. Still, if their pitching can continue to do what they did today, I like Mexico to beat out Canada and advance to round 2.

One that I didn't really like about the game was that USA was playing the game like an all-star game. 5 of the 9 starters were swapped out in the 6th & 7th innings, and the pitchers swapped out every inning. If we'd already advanced, or it was a blow out, that'd be one thing. But one of the keys to making this classic a success (and having a second one in 4 years), I'd argue, is to play the games to win, not just to give everyone a chance to get some playing time. Anything less makes it feel cheapened.

In terms of the fans at the game, I think the USA fans outnumbered the Mexicans by 2 or 3 to one, but the Mexicans were clearly the louder of the two groups. Sure, the USA people could cheer when queued at particular moments (the two HR's for example), but it was the Mexican fans who kept the stadium humming as the innings wore on. They were normally audible, were loud with each USA out recorded, and were positively bezerk when A-Rod struck out. :) Most of the Mexicans seemed relatively upbeat on the way out, and they should be given how well their team played today. There were a few USA fans who were hooting and hollering after the victory (Yankee fans mostly), but most of us seemed to understand how narrow this victory really was, especially considering how heavily we were favored. Hopefully the boys will pick it up a notch for tomorrow's game at Canada. I'm looking forward to attending that one too.

I have a photo gallery online at snapfish with pics from the game: