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U.S. routs Puerto Rico, 8-0, to win World Baseball Classic

U.S. routs Puerto Rico, 8-0, to win World Baseball Classic
The U.S. team celebrates its 8-0 victory over Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic championship game on Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The tension-filled odyssey was nine innings from its end. No more worries about satisfying the sometimes conflicting allegiances of his country, his players, and the major league teams for which they play.

After 11 years, 27 games and repeated snubs from some of the brightest stars in baseball, the United States finally had reached its first World Baseball Classic championship game. No more politics, just one game to win, and so Manager Jim Leyland allowed himself a smile as he opened a pregame news conference.

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"We're trying to make America great again," he said, chuckling.

And they did. The Yankees are the champions of the world, after an 8-0 rout of Puerto Rico Wednesday at Dodger Stadium.

"We wanted to put USA on top of the baseball world, where it belongs," Eric Hosmer said.

This might be the tournament that makes the WBC as great in America as it is in the rest of the world but, really, who cares? If the dream is to win, the dream team is the one that wins.

The dream ace is Marcus Stroman, who never has gotten a Cy Young Award vote but emerged atop the world stage by silencing, more figuratively than literally, the spirited and raucous Puerto Rican contingent among the Dodger Stadium crowd of 51,565.

Do you believe in miracles? Well, no, this isn't the Olympics. But Stroman very nearly put the most classic of touches on the World Baseball Classic, pitching six no-hit innings in the championship game.

Stroman, whose father is from the United States and whose mother is from Puerto Rico, could have pitched for either team. On Twitter, his mother said she was "sad and embarrassed" by the "vulgar comments" from some Puerto Rican fans toward her son.

After Angel Pagan doubled to lead off the seventh, ending Stroman's night, the pitcher walked toward the dugout, accompanied by thunderous "U-S-A" chants.

He pumped his fist and swept his right arm across the front of his jersey, right across the letters "U-S-A."

Said Stroman, the tournament's most valuable player: "I'll be back in four years to defend the title."

The U.S. won the tournament the hard way, getting to the final by winning consecutive elimination games against the Dominican Republic and Japan, the only teams that had won the WBC.

The evening was incredibly suspenseful. But, after the first few innings, the suspense became less about which team would win the game and more about whether Stroman would throw a no-hitter.

In the third inning, Ian Kinsler hit a two-run home run. The U.S. led, 2-0, and Stroman had not given up a hit.

In the fifth, Christian Yelich and Andrew McCutchen singled home runs. The U.S. led, 4-0, and Stroman had not given up a hit.

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In the seventh, Brandon Crawford singled home two runs and Giancarlo Stanton one. The U.S. led, 7-0, and Stroman had not given up a hit.

In the bottom of the seventh, Pagan hit Stroman's fifth pitch for a double. That was Stroman's 73rd pitch — the WBC limit is 95 — and Leyland promptly removed him.

The countdown to victory was on, and after the final out, the U.S. players enjoyed a group hop atop the pitcher's mound and a victory lap around the field with the American flag.

The team mascot, a statue of a bald eagle, was put on the pitcher's rubber, for pictures and posterity.

"It was the most fun I've ever had playing baseball," Yelich said.

"This is everything," McCutchen said, "and more."

McCutchen was one of several U.S. players to describe how the team fired itself up before the game by discussing pictures of supposed Puerto Rico championship shirts and rumors that the Puerto Rico players had planned to fly to the island after the game for a championship parade.

"It didn't sit right," McCutchen said. "This game will humble you. I've learned it over my career: Don't say anything, just go out and play the game. It will speak for you."

After the Dominican won the last WBC, in 2013, the players were feted with a November luncheon with the country's president and a parade in the capital city.

Paul Seiler, executive director of USA Baseball, would not touch the question of whether the team might visit the White House. That would be a delicate subject now, and besides, the team does not need presidential validation that it has indeed made American baseball great again.

Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin

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