The baseball gods woke me at 4 a.m. to watch the second half of Canada vs. South Africa and Puerto Rico vs. Panama. And guess what? I enjoyed it.
In front of 19,043 in San Juan, the home team held off Panama with sharp bullpen work and defense after falling behind 1-0. Kiko Calero and Francisco Cabrera nailed it down for Puerto Rico, helped by a big-time assist by Yadier Molina, who rifled down a base stealer in the ninth to secure the 2-1 win. Molina was a defensive replacement for Pudge Rodriguez. Imagine that!
On the other side, Phillies prospect Carlos Ruiz worked the entire game behind the plate for Panama and went 0-2 with a bases-loaded RBI walk.
Interesting fact on baseball in Puerto Rico: Much like the United States, basketball is becoming the pickup game of choice among Puerto Rican youth. The reason: Puerto Rico’s upset win over the United States in the 2004 World Championships exposed basketball in a new way. It goes to show how much international tournaments like these mean to the Latin American countries. Baseball enthusiasts on the island are hoping the WBC will revive interest in the sport.
Meanwhile in Scottsdale, Ariz., South Africa sent a scare through Canada in a wild one, but ran out of pitching and lost 11-8. The announcers said the game could have turned out differently if pitchers weren't on a pitch count, which has been the big issue with players this tournament, including Ichiro. The starter for South Africa, Carl Michaels, looked good but was pulled after 2 2-3. They finished with two pitchers who got bombed, including a 17-year-old.
Rheal Cormier looked solid for Canada, pitching 1 1-3 innings of shutout relief with 2 strikeouts. Physically, he is sporting a different appearance this year, short hair and a goatee. As I wrote a few weeks ago, he's one of my picks to have a surprise year for the Phillies.
Corey Koskie delivered the big hit for Canada, a two-run blast in the seventh inning, but South Africa eventually came back to tie it. The young arms of South Africa could not hold it down however as Canada broke it open in the eighth. Matt Stairs and Jason Bay also had big hits for Canada.