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08/16/2008 Archived Entry: "WORLD BASEBALL TODAY (Sunday, August 17, 2008)"

by Bruce Baskin
Radio Miami International

The Florida Marlins continue to raise eyebrows among National League followers by remaining in contention in the East Division race. One reason is that the Fish are bludgeoning opponents into submission. In fact, Florida has set a major league record for home runs by starting infielders.
When third baseman Jorge Cantu stroked a home run last weekend, he joined Florida first baseman Mike Jacobs, second baseman Dan Uggla and shortstop Hanley Ramirez in becoming the first starting infield to bash at least 20 homers each in National league history. Ramirez and Uggla each have 26 dingers while Jacobs has 25. Should Cantu drill five more homers over the Marlins' remaining 42 games, they'll become the first team in the 132-year history of Major League Baseball to have four infielders with 25 or more home runs.
Not that the Big Four have carried the load by themselves for the Marlins. Outfielders Cody Ross and Jeremy Hermida have hit 17 and 15 homers, respectively, while fellow outfielders Josh Willingham and Luis Gonzalez have combined for another 15, even though Willingham missed 50 games with a back injury and has not been the same hitter since coming off the disabled list in June.
The pitching has not been nearly so spectacular, with 11-7 Ricky Nolasco the only Marlins hurler with more than seven wins, but they've done well enough to give Florida a 63-59 record, 2.5 games behind NL East leaders Philadelphia and a half-game behind the New York Mets. The Chicago Cubs continue to lead the Central Division with a 74-47 record, while 62-59 Arizona is just half a game ahead of 61-59 Los Angeles in the mediocre NL West.

The Tampa Bay Rays parlayed a 12th inning home run from Carlos Pena into a 7-5 win at Oakland last Thursday afternoon, but the American League East Division leaders suffered yet another injury to one of their key performers.
Closer Troy Percival had to leave the game in the ninth inning with a sprained right knee, and was likely to return to the disabled list for the third time this season. Percival has landed on the DL twice with a left hamstring problem. He suffered the injury fielding a sacrifice bunt by Oakland's Mark Ellis and chasing Ellis down. He recorded the putout, but hurt himself in the process. Percival has 27 saves and a 3.69 ERA in 41 appearances in 2008.
Tampa Bay was already missing All-Stars outfielder Carl Crawford and third baseman Evan Longoria, plus starting shortstop Jason Bartlett. Crawford may be out for the season with a finger injury, while Longoria has a right wrist fracture and Bartlett has a bone bruise on the index finger of his throwing hand. Bartlett may be back in the lineup this week, but Longoria is expected to be out the rest of August.
Even with three starters and their closer missing, the Rays have won seven of their last ten games, and still lead Boston in the AL East race with a 73-47 record. Their 73 wins have obliterated the Rays' old season record of 71 victories with 42 games left on the schedule. In the AL Central, the 68-52 Chicago White Sox lead Minnesota by a game, while the Los Angeles Angels are an AL-best 75-44 and have a 15.5-game lead over Oakland in the West.

If any doubts remain that South Korea is becoming a major player on the international baseball stage, their come-from-behind 8-7 win over the United States on the opening day of Olympics baseball should go a long way toward dispelling them. While the Americans were joined by Cuba and Japan as favorites heading into the Beijing Games, the Koreans served notice that their strong showing in the 2006 World Baseball Classic was not a fluke.
Heading into the top of the ninth, South Korea was leading the contest 6-4 when Team USA's Mike Hessman cranked a solo homer over the left field wall off Han Ki-joo to pull the Americans to within one run. A two-run single by Matt Brown later in the frame gave the USA a 7-6 advantage. However, in the bottom of the ninth, South Korea scored the tying run on a throwing error by American Jayson Nix and won the game on an errant pickoff throw by relief pitcher Jeff Stevens.

In the must-see game of opening day Olympics action, Cuba defeated Japan 4-2, spoiling the Beijing debut of Japan's young ace pitcher Yu Darvish. The 21-year-old Darvish won the hallowed Sawamura Award last season, but was tagged with the loss after being touched for four runs and seven hits by a veteran-laden Cuban squad which has come under criticism at home following some sluggish performances leading to the Olympics.
Young stars Alfredo Despaigne and Alexei Bell, who was MVP of last winter's Cuban National Series, combined for five hits, two runs and three RBIs against a strong Japanese pitching staff, but the real story of the game was the work of Cuban pitching veterans Norge Vera and Pedro Lazo. The 37-year-old Vera held Japan to just two runs over the first six innings before being replaced by the 35-year-old Lazo. Lazo is the all-time wins leader in the CNS, and he tossed three scoreless innings in relief to save the win for Cuba.

Chen Wei-Yin was spectacular over seven innings on the mound as Taiwan went on the shut out The Netherlands 5-0 in the Olympic opener for both nations. Chen set the Dutchmen down in order in the first inning on a groundout and a pair of strikeouts and went on to shut down Holland on just three hits while racking up seven whiffs. The Chunichi Dragons righthander retired 13 of the last 14 batters he faced before giving way to Cheng Kai-Wen in the eighth.
Offensively, Chang Chien-Ming went 2-for-3 with two RBIs for Taiwan as only Sharnol Adriana, Dirk van't Klooster, Bryan Englehardt and Danny Rombley got hits for the Dutch.

For three innings, China gave Canada a ballgame in the first game of the Olympics. Unfortunately for the host team, they play nine innings at this level as the Canadians went on to shut out the Chinese 10-0 at Beijing's Wukesong Stadium.
Chinese starter Tao Bu and Canada's Chris Begg locked up in a scoreless duel until the bottom of the fourth, when Scott Thorman crushed a three-run homer to put the Canadians on the scoreboard and open up the rout. Begg combined with relievers Tim Burton and Rheal Cormier for the shutout, as Begg scattered six hits with nine strikeouts over 6.2 innings to take the win. Lei Li was 2-for-3 at the plate for the Chinese.

The Puerto Cruz Marlins defeated FC Barcelona 6-0 August 9 to cinch their fourth straight Spanish League pennant. Leslie Nacar pitched eight shutout innings for the Marlins to end the year with a 10-1 record as Puerto Cruz ended the season with a 27-5 record. Barcelona finished second for a second consecutive season with a 25-7 mark, while Sant Boi came in third with a 24-8 mark. There are no playoffs in the Spanish League, so the pennant is determined strictly by regular season won-lost records.
Elsewhere in the final weekend of baseball in Spain, Viladecans beat the hapless Astros twice by scores of 10-0 and 9-3 to finish 11-21 on the season. The Astros were winless in 32 games. Finally, Beisbol Navarro shut out San Inazio 8-0 before losing the second game 4-2. With the split, San Inazio finished the year 15-15, while Navarro ended up at 15-17.

The final four of German League baseball playoffs have been determined after the completion of first round series last weekend.
Andre Hughes tossed a 7-0 shutout over the defending champion Mainz Athletics in the clinching game to give the North Division regular season winner Solingen Alligators a 3-1 series win over Mainz in their series. Solingen improved to 30-2 on the season, and will now face the Regensburg Legionaere in one of the two semifinal series. Regensburg swept the Cologne Cardinals in three straight games in their opening round series, capped by an 11-5 win last Saturday.
The other German League semi series will pit the South Division champion Heidenheim Heidekopfe against the Manheim Tornados. Heidenheim needed just three games to eliminate the Dortmund Wanderers, clinching their series last weekend with a 10-1 drubbing. Manheim needed all five games to best the Paderborn Untouchables. Paderborn led most of the fifth and deciding game, leading 8-7 heading into the ninth inning. However, the Tornados' Billy Hess stroked a game-winning single to give Manheim a thrilling 9-8 win to push Manheim into the semis.

After two weeks of suspended play due to bad weather, Baseball Philippines was finally able to conclude their Series 3 championship series last weekend at Rizal Memorial Baseball Stadium in Manila. The Batangas Bulls took away the pennant by putting away the Dumageute Uni-Bikers 7-3 to win the series, 2 games to 1.
Batangas slugger Virgilio Roxas was named Most Valuable Player for Series 3 after batting .507 with a BP-leading five homers and 17 RBIs, but the hero of Game 3 was Bulls relief pitcher Ruel Batuto. Replacing starter Vladimir Eguia, who left in the second inning with an injured arm on July 26 during the suspended game, the 29-year-old Batuto gave up just three hits the rest of the way to help nail down the win for Batangas. On offense, Jojo Apura went 2-for-3 with a homer and triple two weeks apart, driving in four runs and scoring twice.
The third and deciding game of the series began July 26 before Typhoon Igme washed out the proceedings with Batangas leading 3-2 in the third inning. There was no play the following weekend due to poor ground conditions at Rizal Stadium, but the field was judged playable last weekend, allowing Game 3 to conclude. The pennant is the first for Batangas, an expansion team in 2008. Baseball Philippines plays both spring and fall schedules, thus BP's Series 4 season will get underway later this year.

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