Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Acta and Tito

From San Juan to San Diego, it's all good

The WBC continues to impress: Venezuela and the Dominican Republic battling to avoid elimination and secure a spot in the semi-finals at the same time. Oddly enough, even though critics simultaneously tout the DR for their magnificent run potential and claim that their pitching is not up to par, it was pitching that stepped up tonight when Venezuela’s Freddy Garcia shut down the DR bats. Dominican Daniel Cabrera (best known for his death stare game face) did Garcia one better, shutting down Venezuela with his nasty sinking strikeout pitch, striking out a WBC tied-record of seven – and being fortunate enough to not have a player who’s in transition from left-field to third-base (Miguel Cabrera) at the hot corner.

Run number one came with the bases loaded in the first after Cabrera dropped a rolling grounder. The Venezuelans tied it up with a walk, a double and a groundball off of otherwise stellar young Minnesota starter Francisco Liriano in the sixth and with the way the pitching duel progressed, extra innings seemed likely…until the Dominicans managed to load the bases for the second time in the seventh inning and squeeze in a run when catcher Ramon Hernandez allowed a Kelvin Escobar pitch to hit off his glove and escape to the backstop. Even then, the game wasn’t over – DR reliever Duaner Sanchez managed to get two outs in the ninth, then loaded the bases in a tension-fraught finish where Sanchez seemed to have lost the outside edge of the plate. Finally, a pop fly to right field and the game ended.

Once again, the appeal of these games is how every contest is like a playoff game or the World Series. Every game matters and with national pride at stake, the players, especially the ones from underdog countries, play like these are the most important games of their lives. The internationalization of baseball is a very cool thing.

Meanwhile, on Yawkey Way they extended Tito’s contract until 2008. Makes sense, as far as I can tell – the upper management is still in place, the goal is still to win in new and innovative ways, so why remove a fairly popular and compliant manager? We’ll continue to question some of his decisions, debate his player management tactics and with any luck, wonder how he gets so lucky at the end of the season.