Heavily favored Venezuela was on the ropes in the World Baseball Classic late Monday night.
They trailed the plucky Italian squad by a run in the 9th inning. Winner moves on to San Diego for the next round; loser goes home. If Venezuela didn’t put together some kind of rally, they’d be exiting from the tournament far earlier than anyone expected.
Thankfully, they had Miguel Cabrera striding to the plate. And to nobody’s surprise, he saw an 0-1 spinner find too much of the plate and absolutely demolished it to the seats in right-center. Just like that, Italy's dreams had been squashed and the whole Venezuelan roster poured out of the dugout to meet Miggy at home plate.
Like it was any old Tigers game, Victor Martinez was next to bat. He patiently worked a walk, got replaced by a pinch-runner, and a few batters later, Venezuela had grabbed a two-run lead.
Another K-Rod Adventure
Cue the next Tigers’ star to enter the game. This time it was Francisco Rodriguez summoned to close out the final frame of this thrilling tiebreaker game.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a typical K-Rod experience without a mistake or two. The 4-2 advantage he entered with quickly became 4-3 after he was greeted quite rudely with a long bomb from Italian star and former MLB journeyman Alex Liddi.
But when Rodriguez needed to settle down and get Venezuela across the finish line, he did just that. A trio of weak ground balls followed the blast; when the final out was whipped across the diamond to Cabrera, he pumped his fist and let out a scream. It let you know just how much this worldwide tournament means to many of these players.
Cabrera has played in plenty of giant games as a big leaguer, for both the Marlins and Tigers. But when you saw his reaction following that 27th out against Italy, it looked as if this one meant as much to him as any of the others that came before.
It would have been a major disappointment for the Venezuelan team to go home after this opening round of play. Their roster is loaded with All-Stars like Jose Altuve, Carlos Gonzalez, and “King” Felix Hernandez. Toss in Cabrera, V-Mart, a host of other MLB regulars, and you realize how devastating this loss could have been to that baseball-crazy nation.
They move on now to pool play in San Diego. First up: Team USA, managed by Jim Leyland.
With all of the Detroit Tiger representation (past and present) set to be on hand in that game, you’d be forgiven if you thought your television had done some type of time hop back to the year 2012. To confuse matters even more, Venezuela also boasts fireballer Bruce Rondon, as well as former Tiger southpaws Jose Alvarez and Wilfredo Ledezma. Utility man Hernan Perez is on the club, too.
The coaching staff boasts the services of one Magglio Ordonez, and Carlos Guillen might have been spotted bouncing around the dugout, too. The team is managed by Omar Vizquel, first base coach for the Tigers.
If the actual Detroit Tigers’ spring training struggles have you down, just adopt the Venezuelan national team in this World Baseball Classic. The difference between the two organizations is practically non-existent.
The USA-Venezuela clash will take place Wednesday night at 9 p.m. in Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres. The game will air live on MLB Network.