Saturday’s USA-Venezuela classic shows how much baseball has grown internationally and what the WBC games mean to those who choose to play them.
MIAMI – When Bobby Thomson hit that New York press, borrowing from Ralph Waldo Emerson, anointed as “The Shot Heard Round the World,” his home run occurred on October 3, 1951, on a Wednesday afternoon in New York and at time when baseball wasn’t played west of St. Louis, when Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier just four years earlier and when the baseball-mad country of Venezuela had seen only three of its countrymen play in the American or National Leagues.
Don’t dare place the home run Trea Turner beat Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic quarterfinals Saturday night 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 to those who choose to play, just put Turner’s grand slam and the very un-American bedlam that followed on a loop.
You will – if you still have a voice and your ears have stopped ringing.
“I lost my voice,” Turner said with a rasp, “because I was screaming the whole game.”
The skeptics who think the WBC is “just an exhibition” that “nobody cares about” should know that Turner, a 2019 World Series champion with the Nationals, said he had never played in an atmosphere as loud and as charged as loanDeport 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 whirled to face the USA dugout on the first base side and screamed in cheers. When he returned to the plate, the entire team was out of the dugout and acting like kids. No one had ever seen Mike Trout jump around a baseball field like that.
“I need to see a video because I want to see those guys,” Turner said. “I think it’s more fun for me. Pretty cool. I heard Pete [Alonso] couldn’t find bat so he picked up my bat and turned it over. I’m even. I don’t necessarily show that much emotion. I don’t remember reacting like that.
Turner looks over at 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 echoed around it—and in a more literal and less hyperbolic way than in 1951. A boy from Florida back in his home state hit a home run to beat Venezuela, push the United States into a semi-final match 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 plugging Daniel Bard into a game with a lead (he lost it) and his delay in getting a hopelessly wild Bard out of it quickly enough.
On one field, playing for national pride in a sold-out ballpark, 24 All-Stars combined to produce 16 runs, 23 hits, 30 baserunners and two comebacks from multiple-run deficits.
In talent and passion it was an epic game.
The US-centric (read, selfish) perspective is to write off the WBC as unimportant.
Astros fans will howl that their second baseman, José Altuve, will be out for nearly two months after a pitch from Bard broke his right thumb. (Through just 17 pitches, Bard gave up four runs, hit one batter, walked two, threw two wild pitches and threw just seven batters — worrisome for the Rockies considering Bard will have to overcome the yips to find his way back to MLB.) if that is tolerable to break it in a spring training game.
On a night that showcased international baseball at its best, Max Scherzer of the Mets put 74 miles up the road in a spring training game. Now it’s pointless. Like most elite American-born players, Scherzer missed the thrill of playing for the United States in order to stick to the routine of getting ready for the regular season.
But take the global view. The WBC will end with an attendance of 1.3 million people. In two weeks, the WBC will draw what five major league teams attracted over six months last season (Marlins, Rays, Pirates, Royals and Guardians). More people watched the Japan-Korea WBC match on television than any match in World Series history.
And “nobody cares?”
The world cares. More importantly, the players care. That was evident with the way both sides gallantly chased victory on Saturday night. DeRosa challenged his players before the game, knowing that the house would be rocking for Venezuela, and that the usual American lack of cool-for-school sentiment would blow his club’s doors off. His players did not disappoint, coming back from blowing a 5-2 lead and trailing with two runs down to the final six outs.
The USA trailed 7–5 when Venezuela reliever José Quijada tripped in Bard-like fashion in the eighth. He walked Tim Anderson, allowed Alonso a bloop hit and hit JT Realmuto with a pitch. Venezuela manager Omar López then brought on Silvino Bracho to face Turner.
In that moment, the depth of Team USA was never more evident. Turner batted ninth in the starting lineup for the first time in his big 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 thrown just 5 1/3 major league innings over the previous four years.
Here was the question from Lopez: Protect the lead with the bases loaded and nobody out. Oh, and by the way, the next three hitters were Turner, Mookie Betts and Trout — three players with current contracts totaling $1.09 billion. That’s more money among three ballplayers than the entire country of Venezuela reportedly had in cash during the 2020 financial crisis.
The task somehow started well, briefly. Bracho jumped ahead of Turner with two fastballs for strikes. On 0–and–2, he decided on a change. It was a terrible change. It hung over the plate, middle third. Turner blasted it well over the left field wall, sparking a ridiculously joyous celebration of shouts and hugs.
“It’s pretty much a postseason atmosphere,” said Ryan Pressly, who closed out the game, just as he did for Houston in the World Series last season, “right in the middle of spring training.”
He said it with such wonder, like Christmas in July.
“That 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 with no obvious choice to close it out, having used every reliever against Venezuela except for Kendall Graveman and Aaron Loup. The WBC is never without surprises. It bows to no script or expectations.
But whatever happens in the semifinals, with the United States facing Cuba and Japan facing Mexico, the tournament had its international historic moment. It wasn’t just that Turner hit a game-winning grand slam. There was also the unfiltered joy it unleashed from a team of American stars playing for something very important in their own hearts.