WBC: Trea Turner’s grand slam lifts U.S. over Venezuela; José Altuve suffers injury
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.
Mexico WBC manager Benji Gil is known for his candor and his frank approach. He wants to make it clear that he is doing all he can to be an MLB manager.
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 USA hitting coach Ken Griffey Jr. gave him a hug in the dugout.
“Individually, I think this is probably the biggest hit that I’ve had,” said Turner, a 2019 World Series champion with the Washington Nationals.
The blast, the third grand slam for the U.S. in WBC history, was another mesmerizing sequence in this tournament, much like how the bottom of the fifth inning ended after Altuve’s injury.
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Bard, whose career was derailed 12 years ago by the yips, threw another wild pitch that nearly hit Anthony Santander in a leg to bring home another Venezuela run. Santander eventually worked a walk to load the bases and chase Bard.
Luis Arraez welcomed Jason Adam with an RBI groundout before Salvador Pérez lined a game-tying double down the left-field line. Two pitches later, Ronald Acuña Jr. launched a sacrifice fly to Mike Trout in deep center field to give Venezuela a 6-5 lead.
Arraez added a solo home run — his second homer of the night — off the right-field foul pole to double Venezuela’s lead. The Marlins infielder has never hit multiple home runs in a major or minor league game. The effort wasn’t enough.
Moments later, Venezuela announced Altuve’s right hand was being evaluated. The Astros are expected to provide an update Sunday.
“It took 10 seconds for Tomás Vera, my trainer, to get him out of the game, and I was like, ‘Oh, my God,’ ” López said. “We’ll see what happens. I started to pray right away for José, for the entire team.”
In the end, Altuve might join New York Mets closer Edwin Díaz as all-stars who have suffered significant injuries in this WBC. Díaz tore the patellar tendon in his right knee celebrating Puerto Rico’s win over the Dominican Republic on Wednesday. He’ll miss the season after the Mets signed him to a five-year, $102-million contract in November.
Both are freak injuries in different ways. Could Altuve’s injury have happened in a spring training game? Of course. Could the game’s intensity have factored into Bard’s wildness? That’s possible too. But that doesn’t matter to the Astros. They’re now left wondering how long they’ll be without a superstar.
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