Games aren’t played on paper

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…

1 thought on “Games aren’t played on paper

  1. Man you’ve been doing a great job covering the classic.

    I just wanted to share with some of your readers how I came to know about Nelson Figueroa. I am Dominican, live in the US, and I follow the Dominican winter league. My team is the Licey Tigers.

    For the playoffs of 2008, our rivals(Aguilas Cibaenas) brought this guy called Nelson Figueroa to pitch. He was pitching in the Mexican winter league(his team was disqualified so he became available).

    We couldn’t hit him in the semifinals, and then in the finals he pitched I believe it was 3 Complete Games(it was at least 2, I’m trying to find the box scores to see if he pitched a 3rd one) against us and thanks to him the Aguilas won the championship.

    But it wasn’t over then… The caribbean series is usually played between the winning teams from the DR, PR, Mexico and Venezuela. But that year there was no PR winter league(in part because of poor attendance, which BTW that win today could help fix) so the top 2 teams from the DR qualified for the Caribbean series. The team that won in Mexico(Yanquis de obregon) brought Figueroa to the Caribbean Series and Figueroa himself told the manager of the team that he wanted to pitch against my team(Licey), note that this was just after he destroyed us in the finals of the Dominican Winter League.

    In that game against Mexico, Figueroa pitched 9 innings of 1 run ball, after 9 innings the game was tied 1-1 and Figueroa came back to pitch the 10th… we couldn’t score until they took him out of the game in the 11th inning… we won that game and won the Caribbean Series(even though we didn’t even win the Dominican winter league). We went 5-1 on that Caribbean series, we lost only one game in the series. Can you guess how we lost that game? just 3 days after we won that 11-inning game against the Mexican team we had to play them again, and Mr. Figueroa made a relief appearance in which he shut us down for 3 innings and scored the W… That licey line up had Erick and Willy Aybar, Emilio Bonifacio, Jose Bautista and Nelson Cruz…

    Basically my point is, he might be a journeyman, but he is in good shape, he pitched in the winter leagues this season, and when he is having a good day he has an insane amount of control and he is pretty much unhittable…. today I was at the ballpark and one guy from Venezuela behind me was talking about this one time that Figueroa pitched a 10 inning shutout in the Venezuelan winter league… so apparently every once in a while he does stuff like this… I’m not surprised at all about what happened today… if we had to play the game again, I’d still bet for the US to win though.

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