After nearly two weeks of entertaining games at the Baseball World Cup, we have got a new champion. The USA defeated Cuba 6-3 in the finals. It is the third title for the American team and the first since 1974. The duel between these two rivals was not that much dramatic as anticipated. The bunch of minor leaguer took a fast 5-0 lead and the outcome was predictable after some frames.
The result itself is somewhat a surprise. Of course, the winning squad featured several of the most talented prospects in baseball. Although we hope that they haven’t reached their potential yet. It was fun to watch young players like MVP Jayson NIX, the third base talents Evan LONGORIA and Andy LAROCHE or a slugging Justin RUGGIANO compete at the international level. However the performance of their pitching staff with an ERA of 1.04 was the key for the success.
Cuba had sent their international experienced and proven team to the event. Don’t understand me wrong. They are not an old squad. Frederich CEPEDA, Yulieski GOUERRIEL and Alfredo DESPAIGNE are still at the top of their game. The 19-year old Aroldis CHAMPMAN showed exiting performances on the mound. They were the favourites from the start. And why not. They had won nine World Cups in a row. They even had not lost one since 1951. The three times a non-Cuban team won the title since then, they didn’t participate.
So it may be not an upset, but it was expected that they would be victorious. Nevertheless, the development of the American teams in the last years showed an improvement. Of course they missed the Olympic games in Athens, they didn’t reached the top four at the last World Cup in Holland or at the World Baseball Classic in 2006. But they defeated Cuba in Sidney 2000 and at last year’s Olympic qualifier in Havana.
Both teams cruised relatively easily into the gold medal game. They each lost just once against European teams (USA 2-6 vs. Italy, Cuba 1-2 vs. Dutch). When it counted they got the big hits. Like supposed, they were in first place in their respective groups after the preliminary round. The quarter- and semi-finals were not much different.
Unlike were their opponents in the playoffs. The Netherlands and Japan were not really favourites to reach the top four. Obviously, the Dutch are the best club in Europe and they were fourth in 2005. But the home crowd could have caused that. They proved it was not. The Japanese squad featured “just” amateur players, who did not had much experience on the international level. Certainly a pitcher like Tadashi SETTSU helped a lot. This guy is phenomenon. He threw 89 Pitches on Friday, dominating the feared Australian offense, rested one day and delivered seven impressive one-hit innings on Sunday to led his team onto the podium.
These four teams were not the only ones, who exited the fans. Australia worked their way to a 6-1 start into the event, playing in four games decided by walk-off hits and showed their firepower in a 26-1 pounding against debutant Thailand. Leadoff hitter Trent OELTJEN won the batting title with an average of .523. But their magic was gone at the end of the first round, lost in the quarterfinals to Japan and had to settle for a still best finish ever. Although they had hoped for a better result, after finishing the Olympics in second and sending a strong team to Taipei.
Even the overmatched teams from South Africa and Thailand, the Baseball World Cup showed that the gap between the heavyweights and the relatively newcomers in baseball is smaller than the years before, but not closed.
The top Asian teams had a mixed tournament. Japan and Korea rested their star-players for the Olympic qualifier in December, but were still competitive enough to reach the top five in the end. Host Chinese Taipei had a very motivated squad on hand, fed from the supporting crowd to win five of the first seven games to lose all three in the final round.
Besides the Netherlands, the Europeans had a solid tournament. Italy celebrated their revival after a disappointing continental championship in September and showed their skill with three victories. They are also the only team, who beat the new World champion at the event. Spain and Germany had their successful moments and gained a lot experience. They are on the right way, cutting the deficit to the better clubs.
Despite the two finalists, the American teams took a beating. Venezuela was one of the few disappointments, winning just twice. Panama, who would have advanced if they had insurances for all of their players right from the start, and Mexico, who profit from that incident, had only an uninspired tournament with few successful moments. Canada showed their talent most of the time, but had no luck in the decisive situations.
In the end there were some close and some lopsided games. It was great to bring the event to the fans at home, through the broadcasters of stadeo.tv, who did a great job. The attendance was not that high at several matches and there were some questionable calls by the international umpire staff. But in the end the two best teams battled for first place and team USA is a deserving new champion. Cuba has their chance for revenge at the Olympic games in Beijing next September.