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11/19/2007 Archived Entry: "WORLD BASEBALL TODAY"

Sunday, November 18, 2007
by Bruce Baskin

"World Baseball Today" is a weekly program broadcast every Sunday morning on Radio Miami International (WRMI), and can be heard worldwide as the only baseball show on shortwave radio. If you'd like a free online subscription to text and/or mp3 versions of WBT, email me at

World Cup Baseball

Heading into the 2007 Baseball World Cup, the United States was a bit of an unknown quantity. Although they were in the same group as perennial baseball power Japan and host Taiwan, nobody was really sure how America’s collection of minor leaguers would fare. As it turned out, they did just fine.
The USA won Pool A by winning six of seven games, the only blemish being a somewhat shocking 6-2 November 9 loss in Taichung to an Italy team that only won three times and finished sixth out of eight teams. A pair of young infielders, Andy LaRoche of the Dodgers and Evan Longoria of the Rays, have batted well thus far. LaRoche batted .385 with 12 RBI’s over seven games, while Longoria stroked the ball for a .357 average with seven ribbies. Each had two homers in the opening round. This is a good-hitting team, for whom 36 of their 69 first round hits went for extra bases.
Yankees farmhand Jeff Karstens was scheduled to start against South Korea in their final round opener, while Matt Wright and Dallas Trahem were slated to get some work over the weekend.

The Americans were joined by Taiwan, Japan and Mexico in moving on to the next stage of the competition after pool play. Both Taiwan and Japan finished Pool “A” play with 5-2 records, with the host team getting the second seed by virtue of their 6-1 win over the Japanese on November 9 as Taiwanese starter Chien-Fu Yang went six strong innings, giving up just one earned run while scattering five hits.
Mexico and Panama tied for fourth in Pool “A” with a 4-3 record, and Panama initially got the nod due to their win over Mexico in head-to-head play. However, Panama was found to have fielded five uninsured players in two earlier games, and had a win over Spain forfeited, which bumped the Mexicans into the quarterfinals.

Defending World Cup champion Cuba took the Pool “B” championship as expected, but it wasn’t as easy as many thought it would be. The Cubans actually lost a 2-1 squeaker to The Netherlands on November 14 in the final first round game for both teams in Taipei. Mexican League star Sharnol Adriana’s seventh inning single drove in the winning run for the Dutchmen, who outhit Cuba by a 10-5 margin for the contest.
The Cubans got a scare earlier in their opening game on October 7, as it took a walk-off homer by longtime star Osmani Urrutia in the bottom of the tenth to pull out a 3-2 win over Australia. The Aussies finished the first round tied with Cuba at 6-1 record, but had to settle for the second seed. The Netherlands came in third at 5-2, while South Korea’s 5-0 win over Canada on November 7 was the difference-maker after both teams came in at 4-3.

The World Cup final round began Friday with the USA, Netherlands, Japan and Cuba all winning their games. The USA played Holland while Japan and Cuba squared off Saturday in the semifinals, and the winners were scheduled to square off Sunday at 4:30PM local time at Taipei’s Tien-Mou Stadium for the championship.

Asia Series Baseball

After becoming the first Japanese team ever to lose an Asia Series game, the Chunichi Dragons came back to win three straight contests and keep the Konami Cup in Japan. However, it took a ninth inning RBI single in the title game for the Central League champions to beat South Korea’s SK Wyverns to complete the series victory.
Hirokazu Ibata’s tie-breaking single up the middle off Wyverns pitcher Michael Romano drove in Yoshinori Ueda from second base to give the Dragons a 6-5 lead before Hitoki Awase closed out with a scoreless ninth to save the win for Chunichi, who became the third Japanese team to win the Konami Cup in as many years of competition. Ibata was named the Asia Series Most Valuable Player.

The Wyverns opened the Asia Series with an historic 6-3 victory over the Dragons at the Tokyo Dome. SK starter Kim Kwang Hyun held Chunichi to one run on three hits over 6.2 innings of work for the win as the 19-year-old Kim struck out five Dragons batsmen. The game was scoreless until the Wyverns’ Kim Jae Hyun plated a run on an error by Chunichi first baseman Ryota Arai. The Koreans built a 6-0 lead before Dragons pinch-hitter Kazuki Inoue’s two-run homer put Chunichi on the board, but it proved too little, too late for the Japan Series champs.
SK went on to post a perfect 3-0 record in the round-robin portion of the Asia Series, which involves league champions from Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, plus an all-star team from China. The Wyverns followed up their win over Chunichi with a 13-0 dismantling of the China Stars, as former Hiroshima Carp pitcher Michael Romano tossed five shutout innings for the win. SK stroked ten hits before the game was halted on the mercy rule after seven innings.
The Wyverns completed their three-game sweep of the preliminary portion of the Konami cup with a dominant 13-1 win over Taiwan’s Uni-President Lions. SK starter Chei Byung Yong allowed just one run on a Yang Sun-hsuan solo homer in the fifth inning for the win. The game was halted after seven frames on the mercy rule, sending the Wyverns into the final with an aggregate 32-4 margin over their opponents in three games.

The Lions only win was an opening-day 9-5 victory over the China Stars in a game that featured a combined 30 hits between the two teams. The Jim Lefebvre-managed Stars actually built themselves a 4-1 lead through five innings before Chen Lien-hung drilled a 1-1 pitch from Chinese reliever Xu Zheng into the left field seats for a go-ahead grand slam. Uni-President starter Nelson Figueroa allowed four runs on 12 hits in seven innings, staying in the game long enough to pick up the “W” for the Lions.

Chunichi began licking their wounds with a 4-2 win over the Lions in a hard-fought game. Kuo Tai-chi gave Uni-President a 1-0 second inning lead, but the Dragons fought back and had the game tied before Ibata’s fifth inning sacrifice fly unknotted the game for good. Ibata drove in all four Chunichi runs to spoil a great effort by Lions’ starter Pan Wei-lun, who allowed two unearned runs in six innings. Dragons starter Kenta Asakura pitched a solid game as well, letting in two runs on seven hits over six frames of work.
Chunichi then qualified for the final with an easy 9-1 win over the China Stars. Unlike their first two games, the Stars managed to stretch this one to the full nine innings and actually led the Dragons 1-0 going into the fifth after Jia Yubing’s sacrifice fly put them on the scoreboard in the first. China starter Lu Jiangang had a no-hitter going into the fifth before allowing a two-out solo homer by Inoue, his second roundtripper of the competition. Another solo homer by Masahiro Araki in the sixth put Chunichi ahead for good, giving them a slot in the title game.

Caribbean Winter League Baseball

The Navojoa Mayos have reeled off a seven-game winning streak to pull into second place in the Mexican Pacific League standings, but they still trail the Culiacan Tomateros. Navojoa topped Culiacan 6-2 Wednesday night as Doug Clark stroked two hits, including a homer, for the Mayos. Clark is seventh in the Mex Pac batting race with a .322 average, 51 points behind the .373 of Hermosillo’s Jesus Cota. However, Culiacan’s 22-9 record is four games better than the Mayos’ 18-13 mark.
Mexicali’s 5’8” 210-pound DH Carlos Sievers leads in homers with 11, while Obregon first baseman Carlos Rivera has driven in a league-best 31 runs. Among pitchers, four hurlers have four wins apiece. Culiacan’s Alfredo Aceves is 4-0 with a 2.03 ERA, striking out 37 batters and walking only 6 in 40 innings. Hermosillo strikeout artist Francisco Campos is tops in the Mexican Pacific League with a 1.91 ERA, and Aceves’ Tomatero teammate Giancarlo Alvarado has 39 strikeouts. Culiacan has led the Mex Pac from the beginning, and it’s been their pitching that put them in first place and has kept them there.

The Licey Tigres hold a tenuous lead in a Dominican League flag chase that had just 4.5 games separating the 12-8 Tigres from last-place Escogido, who is 8-13. Licey is still somewhat impotent offensively, although catcher Matt Tupman is fifth in the Dominican with a .321 average, and their pitching has been no better than adequate. The Cibaenas Aguilas are just a half-game out of first after losing to Licey 5-0 Wednesday night. Cibaenas’ ERA as a team is by far the best in the league at 2.78, and their collective .254 batting average is second to the Cibao Gigantes’ .275 in what has been a light-hitting season thus far.
Gigantes catcher Bryan Pena leads Dominican batters with a .391 average, while Escogido outfielder Vince Sinisi is on top with five homers and 17 RBI’s. Among pitchers, former big leaguer Jose Lima of Cibaenas has a microscopic 0.71 ERA after four starts. The Aguilas’ Johnny Cueto is tied with Oriente pitcher Roberto Giron with three wins each; and Cueto also shares the strikeout lead at 22 with Licey’s Harold Eckert.

Another team that has led their league since the beginning of the season is the Oriente Caribes, who are best in the Venezuelan League with a 20-8 record, best in all three Caribbean winter leagues and 4.5 games ahead of the second-place Lara Cardinales. The Caribes clobbered La Guaira 11-0 Wednesday night as 30-year-old St. Louis farmhand Mike Smith struck out seven batters over six scoreless innings and Omar Infante went 2-for-4 at the plate with two RBI’s.
Oriente outfielder Jody Gerut has pulled away from the Venezuelan pack with a .420 batting average, 34 points higher than second place Chris Carter of La Guaira, who is hitting .386 for the Tiburones. Lara third baseman Mario Lisson has opened an equally-commanding lead in the home run derby with seven in 25 games; and Gerut’s Oriente teammate Rico Washington has 23 RBI’s to lead the league in that category.
There have been some impressive pitching performances so far in the Liga Venezolana, but it’s hard to find anyone who’s done better than Margarita’s Jose Silva. Silva leads the league with four wins and no losses, his 1.69 ERA is second to the 1.50 of La Guaira’s Jeff Bennett, and Silva is tied for second in strikeouts with 22, trailing only Alex Herrera’s 31 for Oriente.

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