The quarterfinal clash between the United States and Venezuela on Saturday night simultaneously represented everything wonderful and troubling about the World Baseball Classic.
LoanDepot Park, sparsely populated for the hometown Miami Marlins on most nights, was packed to the brim with a pro-Venezuela sellout crowd. It watched Team USA, the defending tournament champion, win a thrilling, seesaw game 9-7 to advance to play Cuba in the semifinals Sunday. But sandwiched between the October-like delirium was a buzzkill that could alter the course of the upcoming Major League Baseball season for the defending World Series champions.
It happened with no outs in the bottom of the fifth inning. Venezuela, trailing 5-2, had runners at second and third against Team USA right-hander Daniel Bard. Houston Astros star second baseman José Altuve, Venezuela’s leadoff hitter, was at the plate. The place was bumping.
Bard, the Colorado Rockies’ closer, had already thrown a wild pitch during Altuve’s at-bat that bounced to the backstop. The next one bounced off Altuve’s right thumb. The former MVP dropped to the dirt, pounding the ground, writhing in pain. Suddenly, silence.
Altuve immediately exited the game. Venezuela, previously undefeated in four tournament games, was left without one of its best players for the night. The Astros were left wondering whether they would be without their best player for the start of the regular season.
Altuve, 32, walked out of Venezuela’s clubhouse with his right thumb bandaged. He greeted reporters but declined to stop to speak about his injury.
“I’m super worried,” said Omar López, Venezuela’s manager and the Astros’ first base coach. “I’m sad. I’m frustrated.”
Three innings later, Trea Turner, Team USA’s No. 9 hitter, supplied another blow to the Venezuelans, smashing an 0-2 changeup from Silvino Bracho over the left-field wall for a go-ahead grand slam. The former Dodgers shortstop yelled and hopped his way to first base. His teammates mobbed him at home plate. Team…
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