Team USA won the World Baseball Classic on Wednesday night, 8-0 over Puerto Rico, in no small part to starting pitcher Marcus Stroman. The diminutive hurler dealt for six-plus scoreless innings, giving up on a only single hit while striking out three and walking one. He got grounder after grounder and induced soft contact all night.
Stroman ended up going home as the World Baseball Classic MVP.
In three starts for USA, he posted a 2.35 ERA and 0.91 WHIP. His 14 1/3 innings pitched tied for the most in the entire tournament and, well, he was arguably the best player in the championship game.
We’d be remiss to not dig deeper here. Stroman actually had a no-hitter going into the seventh in the finals before Angel Pagan broke it up with a double down the left-field line. Here are some of Stroman’s best moments during his no-hit bid:
Stroman’s never bashful out there. It’s one of the things that makes him so fun to watch. He’ll get into the game with everything he’s got, including outward emotion.
There was a particular swagger in this one -- the shoulder shimmy! -- to the point that it seemed like there was a chip on his shoulder. Maybe I’m only saying that because of the background, but that’s because there is relevant background.
You see, Stroman is a born-and-raised American, but his mother was born in Puerto Rico. As such, he was eligible to play for Puerto Rico and chose USA instead. Some dug up this tweet from 2013 to hold against Stroman:
For whatever reason, Stroman changed his mind four years later. Frankly, it doesn’t matter what the reason was. It’s his right and, again, he’s an American. Still,by some fans of Puerto Rico during the WBC.
Further, Stroman’s last WBC outing was pretty bad and it came against, yes, Puerto Rico. Stroman gave up six consecutive hits in the first inning last Friday in San Diego’s Petco Park, en route to taking the loss. He gave up four runs in 4 2/3 innings in a game that USA would lose by one run, 6-5. A competitor like Stroman surely carries something like that over as a little extra fuel next time out.
Team that with the heckling his mother reported that she took in Petco ...
Sad & embarrassed 2 see the vulgar comments towards my son and I over a game from "fans"of PR. Thank you to the classy ones who reached out.— BehindGrnEyes (@aya11763) March 19, 2017
... and it was probably safe to say Stroman wanted this one as bad as he has ever wanted a game.
So maybe this background explains Stroman barking at the Puerto Rico dugout to end one inning.
After the game, Stroman was all smiles and did mention his mother, but said nothing malicious about Puerto Rican players or fans at all. Only that his mother went through an emotional time and “that was for my mom, right there.”
So maybe what looked like anger was just how much of a fiery competitor he is.
Overall, who cares why? It was fun and perfectly embodied the overall excitement that the 2017 World Baseball Classic has offered for many American fans who were previously pretty indifferent.
For the first time in four installments going back to the inaugural event in 2006, USA was both successful and exciting.
When Stroman was removed from the game after that Pagan double, he received a huge ovation from the crowd in Dodger Stadium. As he neared the dugout, he wiped his hand across the “USA” on his chest as if to reiterate this is his country. If nothing else, it was a show of respect to the United States of America and its fans.
Here’s what Stroman offered up on MLB Network after the game: “You’re pitching with your country on your chest and you feel that pride every time you go out there.”
The World Baseball Classic championship belonged to the United States, due in no small part to a pitcher who chose it over the country it defeated in the final. He was emotional and had fun while playing high-quality baseball, which seemed fitting for this tournament. It was quite the fitting end for WBC MVP Marcus Stroman as well.