MLB News

The World Baseball Classic is a success again. But the best U.S. pitchers stayed away

United States pitcher Nick Martinez throws against Mexico during the first inning.

U.S. pitcher Nick Martinez throws against Mexico during a World Baseball Classic game at Chase Field in Phoenix on Sunday night. The U.S. has one of the best pitching staffs in the tournament, but it lacks star power. (Godofredo A. Vásquez / Associated Press)

The “¡Me-xico! ¡Me-xico!” chants exploded on the concourse Sunday as soon as the Chase Field gates opened. The chorus was so loud that people on the field turned around to see what was happening. It was two hours before first pitch between Mexico and the United States, and the excitement was already simmering.

A sellout crowd of 47,354 people — evenly split between the passionate sides — watched Mexico shock the U.S. in an 11-5 win. The show was a smashing success for the World Baseball Classic, in its fifth iteration and first since 2017.

Interest in the WBC, a subject that has been endlessly discussed in the weeks before every one of them, is there in bunches from fans and players alike. It’s been apparent from Miami to Japan, where at one point more than half of the households in the Greater Tokyo Area were watching its home team face South Korea. There have been electric atmospheres and raw emotions. October environments have resurfaced in March.

But the event still isn’t where everyone involved envisions. Kinks to smooth out exist. Most are off the field, but one prominent on-field hurdle remains. Team USA manager Mark DeRosa, who played for the U.S. in the 2006 WBC, touched on the topic more than once in the last week.

“From a pitching standpoint, they had to get going a little bit earlier and had to ramp it up a little bit earlier,” DeRosa said. “But I think if this is going to go where it needs to go, some of the major league clubs are going to have to be willing to be a little bit more… OK mind-set-wise with those guys playing.”

A starred-and-striped elephant was in the room.

The problem DeRosa outlined isn’t across the board. While Team USA’s cast of position players this year is the most talented in its WBC history, attracting the best available starting pitching is an acute obstacle only for Team USA. Take a look around the tournament. The best pitchers from the other contenders are participating.

Shohei Ohtani is playing both ways for Japan entering a contract season with the Angels. Yu Darvish is behind him in the Japanese rotation. Julio Urías, also slated to hit free agency this winter, started for Mexico in its opener Saturday.

Sandy Alcántara

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