The first three World Baseball Classics were giant disappointments for the United States. Maybe even embarrassments, if you consider the country was the one to create the game in the first place.
The WBC, as an idea, is a cool one. The problem has been the timing. Scheduling it during Spring Training means guys who haven't been playing Winter League ball aren't up-to-speed and pitchers are on tight pitch limits. Most of the game's biggest stars turned down invitations, but moving the tournament to the end of the year would only lead to more players sitting out.
Despite that, this year's WBC was pure, unfiltered, crazy fun. And that's before you even get to Team USA finally living up to expectations and walking away with the title, beating Puerto Rico 8-0 in the finals Wednesday night.
Sure, we didn't get Max Scherzer or Clayton Kershaw pitching for the Americans. But we did get Marcus Stroman, one of the game's unheralded young starters. And we got Stroman throwing 6 no-hit innings in the country's biggest game in tournament history. Stroman quieted a Puerto Rico team that had been white-hot while the US lineup built up a 4-0 lead.
The first shot came off the bat of Ian Kinsler in the top of the 3rd:
Christian Yelich and Andrew McCutchen added two more in the 5th with a pair of RBI singles.
From that point on, there weren't many huge highlight plays -- just ruthless efficiency from Team USA.
Brandon Crawford drove in two runs on a single in the 7th. Giancarlo Stanton followed that up with another single. In the next inning, McCutchen drove in Nolan Arenado with another single.
By the end of all of that, it was 8-0, and Team USA's first WBC title was a formality.
Sure, it was a pretty anticlimactic way to end a tournament that's been full of raw emotion, trash talk and exciting plays, but there was little doubt about who the best team in the tournament was. The United States had to win a do-or-die game against the defending champions Dominican Republic just to make it to the final round. Once they got to LA, they were faced with an undefeated Team Japan, winners of the first two tournaments, and won that game, too. Then, in the championship round, they knocked off a Puerto Rico team that had steamrolled everyone else in their path.
There has been some talk that this might be the last World Baseball Classic, but let's hope that isn't the case. If anything, this year's tournament has shown there is excitement when it's held -- attendance records were broken for this year's games, and Baseball Twitter was buzzing for the championship game like it was Game 7 of the World Series.
Sure, we didn't get to see Bryce Harper or Mike Trout wearing the Stars and Stripes. But take a look at all of the names listed above. They're all All-Stars, and the guys that did decide to suit up wanted to be there and play well. This was just the fourth WBC ever held. In terms of worldwide tournaments, that's still infancy. But given the chance to grow, this year's WBC showed the idea could truly grow into something special.