when the world baseball classic started last week, Group C was seen as the USA and everyone else Team USA, the defending champion, was the heavy favorite for good reason. The position player pool is second to none. The pitching staff is one of the best in the tournament.
But Mexico stunned the USA on Sunday to bounce back from a group-opening loss to Colombia. And on Wednesday, the Mexicans completed their overturn, thrashing Canada 10-3 to win the group and advance to the quarterfinals of the tournament for the first time.
Puerto Rico also advanced to the quarterfinals, eliminating the favorite Dominican 5-2. However, New York Mets All-Star closer Edwin Diaz was wheeled off the field after he appeared to seriously injure his right leg while celebrating Puerto Rico’s victory.
For Mexico to lose to Colombia and win the other three games in group play highlights the depth of the team. The first game was the one they were supposed to win. Because? Because Julio Urías, the brightest star in the country, started with the hope of reaching the quarterfinals.
“We’re very happy with what we’ve achieved so far, but I’m not done yet,” Mexico coach Benji Gil said. “I’m still not satisfied. We took the first step.”
Gil confirmed that the plan remains for the Dodgers left-hander to start in Miami, with one caveat.
“We have to clear up a bit with the Dodgers, but Julio will definitely be gone,” Gil said in Spanish. “I don’t want to give wrong information. But there will be a conversation with the Dodgers. Just to clarify and be in sync with exactly how many pitches you’re comfortable with him throwing.”
Urías threw 62 pitches in five innings against Colombia last Saturday. Gil said he could see Urías taking on a similar workload on Friday. Pitchers were limited to 65 pitches per outing in pool play. The number rises to 80 for the quarterfinal round and 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 stars in baseball.”
One of the great stars of the tournament has been the outfielder from Mexico Randy Arozarenaa native of Cuba who became a citizen of Mexico after defecting.
The Tampa Bay Rays standout, whose historic 2020 postseason propelled the club to a World Series appearance against the Dodgers, reached base in all five of his plate appearances Wednesday. As the leadoff hitter, he hit two doubles, was hit by two pitches and walked one with five RBIs. He finished the pool game seven-for-14 with five doubles and nine RBIs.
Arozarena, 28, is known for his cowboy boots. He donned a hat in the dugout one day and a wrestling mask another. His subtle celebration, dramatically crossing his arms after a big hit, was echoed throughout the stadium. He signed autographs for fans in left field during an eighth-inning pitching changeup Wednesday.
“I saw it”, first baseman from Mexico Rowdy Tellez saying. “It was a giant glove (he signed). They keep asking me about it, but I tell them it’s Randy. He has his boots on. He’s just Randy Arozarena.”
Tellez, a slugger for the Milwaukee Brewers, went two for three with a home run and two walks on Wednesday. He finished the group game with a .353 batting average.
“It’s been really special,” said Tellez, who grew up outside Sacramento with a Mexican father. “Beating Team USA was a crazy moment. I have never played in such an environment.
The atmosphere in Miami promises to be just as electric. Three victories and Mexico will be champion for the first time.