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08/30/2008 Archived Entry: "WORLD BASEBALL TODAY (August 31, 2008)"

by Bruce Baskin
Radio Miami International

Miami's Florida Marlins have lost six of the their last ten games and continue to fade from the race for the National League East title, and the young team is learning that sometimes you can't rely on the home run every night for a win.
Last Thursday's 10-9 loss to Atlanta may stand as an example of that. While trying to hold a one-run lead with one out and the bases loaded in the ninth inning, Marlins closer Kevin Gregg induced a Gregor Blanco grounder to second base that had “double play” written all over it. However, when Hanley Ramirez struggled to get the ball out of his glove on the relay, the speedy Blanco was already streaking safely to first. Instead of a game-ending twin-killing, the tying run scored on the play and Atlanta went on to win when Yunel Escobar punched an RBI single to right through a hole left vacant when Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla shifted to second because Blanco was running on the pitch.
Given the Marlins surprising run this season, it's sometimes easy to forget that this is a team with the lowest payroll in baseball, and both Ramirez and Uggla are only in their third seasons in the majors. The Marlins are a young team, and infield coach Andy Fox recognizes that. Fox said, “They are going through a pennant race for the first time, and there is a learning process. I think anybody who has been involved goes through an education process...They're learning.”
The Marlins are 68-66 and six games behind the New York Mets, who now lead the division, but the future looks bright for Miami's major league team.

Although much of the Tampa Bay Rays' success this season has been credited to an offense that seems to come through in the clutch, kudos have to go to the Rays bullpen. Going into last Wednesday's game, Tampa Bay relievers had combined for a 3.35 ERA while allowing just 34 of 139 inherited runners to score. At the same time last year, the bullpen had an awful 6.24 ERA while allowing inherited runners a 34-of-99 scoring rate.
A lot of the improvement belongs to the presence of closer Troy Percival, the 39-year-old right-hander who signed with the Rays in the offseason. Although Percival has had three visits to the disabled list this year, he's saved 27 games and supplied a 3.69 ERA. Perhaps more important, Percival has brought a sense of veteran calm to a young staff.
Rays reliever Grant Balfour, who came to Tampa Bay in a trade with Milwaukee last year, says “Just being able to come in and do it day in and day out just becomes more second nature.” Another reliever, Dan Wheeler, says, “We take pride in coming in with guys on, and I think you kick it up a notch a little bit.”
Of course, it wouldn't be the Rays if there weren't a new injury to report. All-Star catcher Dioner Navarro hurt his hamstring early last week and missed a number of games, although he was available as a pinch-hitter. Navarro was expected to be back in the lineup this weekend. The Rays continue to lead the American League East race with an 81-51 record, 4.5 game ahead of Boston. Thursday's 3-2 win at home over Toronto assured Tampa Bay of the first .500 season in franchise history.

In perhaps a fitting finale to an amazing 9-0 run in Beijing, South Korea rode the arm of pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin to a 3-2 win over Cuba last Saturday in the Gold medal game of the 2008 Summer Olympics. Ryu went 8.1 innings in the win, allowing four hits (including solo homers by Alexei Bell and Michel Enriquez) while striking out seven Cuba batters for his second Olympic win. He finished with a 1.04 ERA and 13 punchouts over 17 innings.
In the title game, the Koreans took a 2-0 lead when Lee Seung-yeop launched a two-run homer in the first. Cuba tied the contest on homers by Bell and Enriquez, but Lee Yong-kyu's RBI double in the seventh gave South Korea a 3-2 lead that would hold up the rest of the way. Not that there wasn't a little ninth inning drama. Ryu coughed up a single and walked two batters to fill the bases, the latter walk drawing the ire of catcher Kang Min-ho, who was tossed by plate umpire Carlos Rey Cotto. Ryu was pulled in favor of sidearming reliever Chong Tae-hyon, who promptly got Cuban star Yuliesky Gourriel to ground into a game-ending double play.
Cuba won three of the first four Olympic baseball competitions, but South Korea was the class of this year's edition, beating the Cubans and Japan twice each, while defeating bronze medalist USA once. Bell had a terrific time at the plate in Beijing, batting .500 with a 16-for-32 effort, including nine extra-base hits.

In the Olympics Bronze medal game last Saturday, the United States parlayed a four-run explosion in the fifth inning into an 8-4 win over Japan in a matchup of teams that came to Beijing with higher hopes.
Home runs were the order of the day, as Masahiro Araki stroked a solo homer in the first to give Japan a 1-0 lead. One inning later, Matt LaPorta crushed a solo blast for the USA to tie the game at 1-1. Norichika Aoki slammed a three-run bomb in the third to give Japan a 4-1 lead, but another trifecta homer from Matt Brown for the Americans tied the game back up at 4-4 in the bottom of the third.
After a scoreless fourth inning, Team USA scored the final four runs of the game on a two-run double for Taylor Teagarden and (you guessed it) a two-run long shot by Jason Donald gave the Yanks an 8-4 lead. After that, there was no more scoring in the game as American starter Brett Anderson carried the advantage through the seventh and reliever Kevin Jepsen tossed the final two frames.

On the heels of the Beijing Olympics, the third Women's World Cup tournament was played last week in Mastusyama, Japan. The host Japanese national team ran the table in the competition, winning all six games they played, including a resounding 11-3 win over Canada in Friday's Gold medal final. Canada took a 2-0 lead into the fourth inning, but Japan scored four runs to take the lead and never looked back.
In the Bronze game, the USA defeated Australia 2-1 as starter Marti Sementelli allowed four hits and no walks over seven innings for her second win. The Americans won the first two World Cups, but had to settle for the Bronze after losing to Japan 9-5 in the semis.
Japan relief pitcher Kasumi Noguchi came out of the bullpen to win three times and was named Most Valuable Player, while Sementelli was picked Best Pitcher. Japan DH Tomomi Takashima hit .733 to lead World Cup batters in that category.

Elmer Dessens pitched eight solid innings and longtime veteran Roberto Saucedo launched a fourth inning two-run homer to lead the Mexico City Diablos Rojos to a 6-1 win over the defending champion Monterrey Sultanes last Sunday in Monterrey. Mexico City won the Mexican League championship series, 4 games to 1, for their 15th pennant.
Dessens scattered five hits over his eight frames of work, with Luis Alfonso Garcia's fifth inning solo homer the only blemish on the scoreboard. Of Dessens' 113 pitches, 75 were strikes. Another ex-big leaguer, David Cortes, came out of the bullpen in the ninth to pitch a 1-2-3 inning and preserve the win for the Diablos.
The game was a scoreless tie through the first three innings before Victor Bojorquez opened the top of the fourth with a single to left. After Monterrey pitcher Alfredo Simon struck out Amaury Cazana, Saucedo strode to the plate and bashed a homer to left to put Mexico City up 2-0. One inning later, a Bojorquez single drove in Jose Macias to give the Diablos a 3-0 lead. Garcia's homer in the bottom of the fifth brought the Sultanes within two, but in the sixth, Jose Luis Sandoval stroked a two-run double and scored on a Macias single to give Mexico City a 6-1 advantage. After that, it was a matter of Dessens and Cortes combining to record the final nine outs of the season to hand the flag to the Diablos.
The pennant is the first for Mexico City since 2003, and marks the first time since 1996 that a Mexican League title clincher has been won by a visiting team. Dessens has since added to the Atlanta Braves' 25-man roster.

Mexican League star Sharnol Adriana has been signed by DOOR Neptunas for the stretch drive of the Dutch National League season. A Dutch citizen who played for The Netherlands in Beijing, Adriana is coming off a summer in Mexico in which he batted .327 with 17 homers, 16 stolen bases and 83 RBIs in 110 games for Minatitlan and Veracruz. Adriana was a 1991 Toronto draft choice and played in the Jays' system for eight years before eventually landing in Mexico. The 37-year-old has played 121 international games for The Netherlands, but is making his Dutch National League debut with Neptunas.
In the Dutch standings, defending champion Corendon Kinheim heads the table with a 26-7 record, 1.5 games ahead of Neptunas. The Amsterdam Pirates are third at 22-11, while the Konica Minolta Pioniers hold fourth with a 20-12 record.

Waipahu, Hawaii crushed Matamoros, Mexico 12-3 last Sunday to win the Little League World Series title. Tanner Tokunaga belted two homers and Iolana Akau added a solo shot as the Hawaiians used the longball in much the same way the boys from the Texas border town made their way through the competition in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
The Mexicans entered the final game with ten homers and 38 RBIs, but Hawaii starter Caleb Duhay held down the Matamoros power hitters while his own batters put on a fireworks show of their own. Mexico pitchers shot themselves in the foot by issuing nine walks, hitting three batters and uncorking three wild pitches. There were also three passed balls, and the end result was a lot of Honolulu baserunners moving along, many across home plate.
In the third place game, Tokyo, Japan defeated Lake Charles, Louisiana 4-3 as Tsuyoshi Setoguchi scored on a wild pitch in the bottom of the fifth inning to break a 3-3 tie.

Replies: 1 Comment

Great stuff, Bruce

Posted by Max Blue @ 08/31/2008 09:19 AM EST

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