Canada, Mexico brawl, as WBC comes alive ... for once
Finally, the World Baseball Classic has made it into the North American sports landscape. All it took was a brawl. Mexico and Canada fought in the ninth inning of Canada's 10-3 win Saturday afternoon, after Mexican players took offense to Canada trying to run up the score and win a possible tie-breaker.
PHOENIX -- Did you hear what happened at the World Baseball Classic?
For once, you certainly did. For once, the WBC has people talking.
All it took was the ugly brawl above.
It was a crazy Saturday at the WBC, crazy enough the minor story of the day was that heavy underdog Team Italy will advance to the tournament's second round. The Italians were barely noticed, and even Team USA's problems got a rest, as Canada and Mexico played the game that won't soon be forgotten.
Canada won the game, 10-3, a result that helped set up Sunday's winner-take-all game with Team USA for a trip to the second round.
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If it's the Canadians who win Sunday and make it to Miami, Saturday's brawl will become even bigger in WBC lore. It's already the moment that allowed the WBC to intrude on Hockey Night in Canada. Perhaps it will also be seen as the moment that inspires Team Canada in Sunday's matchup with the Americans.
"I think the boys are ready, up for the challenge," first-base coach Larry Walker said. "The guys are fired up. I'm fired up, and I only stand in a box and say, 'There's two outs.'
"I think the guys probably wish the game was today. I know I wish it was."
Yes, the Canadians were fired up, and you can insert any hockey metaphor you'd like. But in reality, as Walker said, they weren't the ones who started this fight.
That role clearly belonged to the Mexicans, with an assist from the WBC's tie-breaker rules.
Here's what happened:
Canada led 9-3 through eight innings, but because the tie-breaker is based on run differential, Canada had a strong incentive to try to keep scoring. Some members of Team Canada remember being knocked out of the 2006 WBC on the run rule, and were determined to not let it happen again.
So Chris Robinson led off the ninth by bunting for a hit. The bunt went to third base, and after Mexican third baseman Luis Cruz fielded the ball, Cruz looked at pitcher Arnold Leon, motioned to his ribs, asking for Leon to hit the next Canadian batter, Rene Tosoni.
Leon threw the next two pitches at Tosoni's ribs, missing both times. At that point, home-plate umpire Brian Gorman warned both benches.
Leon threw the next pitch at Tosoni's back, hitting him this time. As players from both teams converged on the middle of the infield, Cruz was seen to throw the first punch.
There would be many more punches thrown, many by Mexican center fielder Eduardo Arredondo. There was a bottle thrown from the stands at Team Canada pitching coach Denis Boucher, and a baseball thrown that nearly hit Walker in the first-base coaching box.
Fortunately, it appeared there were no real injuries.
"You can't hurt us Canadians," said Team Canada manager Ernie Whitt (who is actually an American citizen, born and raised in Michigan).
There was plenty of animosity.
"I had hold of [Mexico pitcher Alfredo Aceves], and I thought I saw Satan in his eyes," Walker said.
Whitt and Team Mexico manager Rick Renteria both blamed the tie-breaker rule, which encourages teams to run up the score. A scenario existed where the U.S. and Canada could have end up tied in the standings, and Canada's lopsided win Saturday means that in that case, Team USA would need to win Sunday's meeting by a large score.
Renteria said he had told his team about the rules, and about how it could affect the way the game was played. He suggested that in the heat of the game, his players may have forgotten about the rules, but Cruz and most other Mexican players refused to speak to the media.
Whitt said the Canadians played every inning as if the score was 0-0, but he also said he doesn't like playing a game that way.
"There's got to be another method, other than running up the score," Whitt said. "No one likes that. That's not the way baseball is supposed to be played."
Seven players were ejected from the game. Those players and others could well face suspensions, as the WBC committee was reviewing the incident Saturday night.
It would be unfortunate if any of those suspensions affect Canada for Sunday's game against Team USA, given that it's fairly clear that Mexico was the instigator.
"Probably nobody is surprised Team Canada is involved," Walker said. "I don't think this was started by us. . . . Our guy got hit. He was pissed. We all danced. And then we fought."
And then plenty of people who had been ignoring the WBC finally took notice of it. Baseball (and brawling) took center stage on Don Cherry's "Coach's Corner" segment on Hockey Night in Canada.
Will it help the WBC? That remains to be seen. If Team USA is eliminated Sunday, more people will no doubt line up to declare the tournament a failure.
But for one crazy Saturday, at least, the WBC was very much alive.