With Team USA’s 4-3 loss to Puerto Rico and elimination from the World Baseball Classic, there are certain to be many theories as to why, once again, the Americans failed. Some are legitimate (lack of conditioning compared to teams from Asia and Latin America, the various dropouts from the event), some aren’t (the claim that the American players “didn’t care” about the games or their outcomes is easily disproved by Vinnie Pestano‘s post-game Tweet), and some are probably somewhere in between. But, ultimately, the fact that Team USA fell can be brought down to this:
It’s baseball, and in baseball, games aren’t played on paper. And that means weird things can happen, and even small mistakes can doom giants, especially in settings such as tournaments where the margin of error is small.
Consider: Who could have expected that the Team USA lineup would be so anemic (sans David Wright, now resting from his wounds in a S.H.I.E.L.D. Heli-Carrier until he is needed in 2017, and Joe Mauer, who reminded the world about how beautiful a swing he has) for much of the tournament? On paper, you wouldn’t have expected it, but the games aren’t played on paper.
Or consider Nelson Figueroa, who hadn’t thrown a pitch in the Majors since 2011. Who could have expected him to have the night of his life? Or that the umpiring would have had such a… unusual strike zone? Nobody. There are countless other variables that determine this tournament and any given game. And tonight, those variables helped put Puerto Rico on top.
So, before you go ripping into Team USA, or calling for the WBC to be cancelled (it won’t be), just remember: this is baseball. The best team doesn’t always win. Some of the greatest teams in baseball history* haven’t won. It’s what makes the sport great. It’s why we watch. And sometimes, it can be very cruel and fickle game.
So enjoy the rest of the World Baseball Classic, people, because, like all baseball, we have no idea what’s going to happen.
*The 1906 Cubs, the 1954 Indians, the 1969 Orioles, the 2001 Mariners…