Saturday’s USA-Venezuela classic shows just how much baseball has grown internationally and what the WBC games mean for those who choose to play it.
MIAMI – When Bobby Thomson hit what the New York press, borrowed from Ralph Waldo Emerson, anointed as “The Shot Heard Round the World,” his home run on October 3, 1951, occurred on a Wednesday afternoon in New York and at a time when baseball was not played west of St. Louis, when Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier four years earlier and when baseball-mad Venezuela had seen only three of its compatriots play in American or national leagues.
Don’t you dare place the home run Trea Turner hit to beat Venezuela in the quarterfinals of Saturday night’s World Baseball Classic on par with Thomson’s pennant-winning home run when it comes to historical significance. But if you want to know how baseball has grown internationally and, more importantly, what the WBC games mean for those who choose to play it, take a look at Turner’s grand slam and the very un-American madhouse that followed.
You get it – if you still have a voice and your ears are no longer ringing.
“I lost my voice,” Turner rasped, “because I was screaming the whole game.”
Those skeptics who think the WBC is “just an exhibition” that “no one cares about” should know that Turner, a 2019 World Series champion with the Nationals, said he had never played in an atmosphere so loud and loaded as loan Deport Park and never reacted as emotionally as he did to his eighth inning blast that turned a 7–5 deficit into a 9–7 lead and final score. Turner jerked toward the U.S. dugout on the first base side and cried out in jubilation. When he came back to the plate, the entire team was out of the dugout and acting like kids. No one had ever seen Mike Trout jump across a baseball field like that.
“I have to watch a video because I want to see those guys,” Turner said. ‘I think that’s funnier. Pretty cool. I heard Pete [Alonso] couldn’t find a bat so he picked up my bat and turned it over. I am even. I don’t necessarily show that much emotion. I don’t remember reacting like that.
Turner watches the Team USA dugout after hitting a grand slam in the eighth inning of Saturday’s WBC quarterfinal against Venezuela.
Sam Navarro/USA TODAY Sports
“I just remember screaming. I don’t remember anything else.”
If his shot wasn’t heard around the world, it reverberated around it – and in a more literal and less hyperbolic way than in 1951. A Florida boy, back in his home state, hit a home run to beat Venezuela, push the USA in a semi-final against Cuba on Sunday night and a possible dream match against Japan in the final.
“I’ll be honest with you, this is one of the best games I’ve ever been a part of,” said USA manager Mark DeRosa, who survived to put Daniel Bard in a game with a lead (he lost it) and his delay in getting a hopelessly savage bard out soon enough.
On one field, playing for national pride in a sold-out ballpark, were a combined 24 All-Stars producing 16 runs, 23 hits, 30 baserunners, and two comebacks from multi-run deficits.
In talent and passion it was an epic game.
The American-centric (read, selfish) perspective is to write off the WBC as unimportant.
Astros fans will cry that their second baseman, José Altuve, will be out for nearly two months after a pitch from Bard broke his right thumb. (With only 17 pitches, Bard gave up four runs, hit a batter, walked two, threw two wild pitches and struck out only seven – worrying for the Rockies, as Bard had to overcome the yips to make his way back to MLB .) if it would be acceptable to break it during some spring training.
On a night that showed international baseball at its finest, the Mets’ Max Scherzer pitched 74 miles away in a spring training exhibition game. That’s pointless. Like most American-born elite pitchers, Scherzer missed the thrill of playing for the US to stick to the routine to prepare for the regular season.
But take the global picture. The WBC will end with an attendance of 1.3 million people. In two weeks, the WBC will beat what five major league teams managed to beat in six months last season (the Marlins, Rays, Pirates, Royals and Guardians). More people watched the Japan-Korea WBC game on television than any game in World Series history.
and “doesn’t anyone care?”
The world cares. More importantly, the players care. This was evident in the way both sides bravely chased victory on Saturday night. DeRosa challenged his players before the game, knowing that the house would rock for Venezuela and that the usual too-cool-for-school American lack of emotion would cause his club to blow the doors. His players did not disappoint and came back after leading 5-2 and trailing by two runs when they were down to six outs.
The USA trailed 7-5 when Venezuela reliever José Quijada stumbled in Bard-like fashion in the eighth. He walked Tim Anderson, gave up a bloop hit to Alonso and hit JT Realmuto with a pitch. Venezuelan manager Omar López then brought in Silvino Bracho to face Turner.
At that point, Team USA’s depth was never more apparent. Turner batted ninth in the starting lineup for the first time in his major league career — and probably, he said, in his life. Bracho, 29, is a journeyman who has pitched for four organizations, has a career 4.88 ERA and has pitched just 5 1/3 major league innings in the past four years.
Here was Lopez’s question: protect the lead with the bases loaded and no one out. Oh, and by the way, the next three hitters were Turner, Mookie Betts and Trout – three players with pending contracts worth a combined $1.09 billion. That’s more money between three baseball players than the entire country of Venezuela reportedly had in cash during the 2020 financial crisis.
The job somehow started well, in short. Bracho jumped ahead of Turner with two fastballs for strikes. At 0–and–2, he decided to make a substitution. It was a terrible change. It hung over the board, middle third. Turner blasted it well past the wall of left field, sparking a ridiculously joyful celebration of yelling and hugging.
“It’s kind of a postseason vibe,” said Ryan Pressly, who closed the game, as he did for Houston in the World Series last season, “in the middle of spring training.”
He said it with such wonder, like Christmas in July.
“It was probably the loudest game I’ve ever played in,” Turner said.
The US survived. Cuba will be its own test, especially with Adam Wainwright starting the game and DeRosa having no obvious choice to close it out, having used every reliever against Venezuela except Kendall Graveman and Aaron Loup. The WBC is never without surprises. It bows to no script or expectation.
But no matter what happens in the semifinals, with the US against Cuba and Japan against Mexico, the tournament experienced its international historic moment. It wasn’t just Turner hitting a winning grand slam. It was also the unfiltered joy it unleashed in a team of American stars who played for something very important in their own hearts.