Mexico motivated to go all the way after defeating Canada and advancing to WBC quarterfinals
When the World Baseball Classic began last week, Pool C was viewed as the United States and everybody else. Team USA, the defending champion, was the overwhelming favorite for good reason. The group of position players is unmatched. The pitching staff is one of the tournament’s best.
But Mexico stunned the U.S. on Sunday to rebound from a group-opening loss against Colombia. And on Wednesday, the Mexicans completed their turnaround, thrashing Canada 10-3 to win the pool and advance to the quarterfinals of the tournament for the first time ever. Mexico will play Puerto Rico on Friday in Miami.
Puerto Rico advanced by eliminating the Dominican Republic, one of the tournament favorites, with a 5-2 win. The victory was soured, however, when All-Star closer Edwin Díaz was taken off the field in a wheelchair after injuring his right knee in celebration. The New York Mets, Díaz’s parent club, said he will be undergo testing Thursday.
Team USA later joined Mexico in the quarterfinals out of the pool, beating Colombia 3-2 to advance. Mike Trout led the way, going three for four with a triple and three RBI. The U.S., like Mexico, finished group play 3-1, but lost the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Americans will play Venezuela, the Group D winner, Saturday.
That Mexico lost to Colombia and won the other three games in pool play highlights the team’s depth. The first game was the one they were supposed to win. Why? Because Julio Urías, the country’s brightest star, got the start with the hopes that he’d pitch in the quarterfinals.
“We are very happy with what we have accomplished so far, but I’m not done yet,” Mexico manager Benji Gil said. “ I’m not satisfied yet. We did the first step.”
Gil confirmed the plan is still for the Dodgers’ left-hander to start in Miami — with a caveat.
Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman hurt his hamstring for Team Canada on Tuesday and didn’t play Wednesday. He says he will be fine for opening day.
“We have to clarify a little bit with the Dodgers, but, definitely, Julio will go,” Gil said in Spanish. “I don’t want to give incorrect information. But there will be a conversation with the Dodgers. Just to clarify and be synchronized with exactly how many pitches they’re comfortable with him throwing.”
Urías threw 62 pitches over five innings against Colombia last Saturday. Gil said he could see Urías taking on a similar workload Friday. Pitchers were limited to 65 pitches per outing in pool play. The number rises to 80 for the quarterfinal round and to 95 in the semifinals and finals.
“Of course we’re going to try to win,” Gil said, “but we’re not going to jeopardize one of our biggest baseball stars.”
One of the biggest stars of the tournament has been Mexico outfielder Randy Arozarena, a Cuba native who became a Mexico citizen after defecting.
The Tampa Bay Rays standout, whose historic 2020 postseason fueled the club to a World Series appearance against the Dodgers, reached base in all five of his plate appearances Wednesday. Batting leadoff, he hit two doubles, got hit by two pitches and walked once with five RBI. He finished group play seven for 14 with five doubles and nine RBI.
Arozarena, 28, is known for his cowboy boots. He donned a sombrero in the dugout one day and a lucha libre mask another. His subtle celebration — dramatically folding his arms after a big hit — was mimicked around the ballpark. He signed autographs for fans in left field during a pitching change in the eighth inning Wednesday.
Coming off a pair of remarkable seasons with the Dodgers, pitcher Julio Urías enters the World Baseball Classic as an icon for Mexico and its fans.
“I saw him,” Mexico first baseman Rowdy Tellez said. “It was a giant glove [he was signing]. They keep asking me about it, but I just tell them it’s Randy. He’s got his boots on. He’s just Randy Arozarena.”
Tellez, a slugger with the Milwaukee Brewers, went two for three with a home run and two walks Wednesday. He finished group play with a .353 batting average.
“It’s been really special,” said Tellez, who grew up outside of Sacramento with a Mexican father. “Beating Team USA was a crazy moment. Never played in an environment like that.”
The atmosphere in Miami promises to be as electric. Mexico and the U.S. will arrive three wins from a championship.
The 2023 World Baseball Classic is underway. Here’s everything you need to know about this year’s fifth edition of the international baseball tournament.
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