Late-inning heroics from Adam Jones, Brandon Philips and Steve Cishek saved Team USA and the World Baseball Classic’s hopes of gaining relevance on Sunday.
With a 9-4 win over Canada at Chase Field in Arizona, the Americans advanced to the second round, averting, at least for now, the nightmare scenario of a third straight championship game without the host country.
If the WBC is really going to grab our attention and grow, it needs the drama of a final game between the U.S. and Japan — or the Dominican Republic, or Cuba — at AT&T Park on March 19.
Team USA’s dismal performance in the first two tournaments didn’t help the WBC gain traction in our sports-obsessed society.
In American sports, winning is everything. If you bring home the top prize on the international stage, regardless of the sport, you can be immortalized overnight. But if you lose, we’re turning the channel to “Dancing with the Stars” or any other fabricated contest that happens to be on TV, because we like competition and we love watching winners being crowned.
How important is hockey in the South? Not very. But ask people in Georgia if they are familiar with the Miracle on Ice and they’ll tell you about Mike Eruzione and his game-winning goal against the Russians at Lake Placid in 1980.
In 1999, soccer — let alone women’s soccer — wasn’t exactly a popular sport in this country. But you can’t tell me that the image of Brandi Chastain falling to her knees in her black sports bra isn’t tattooed in the memory of most American sports fans.
If soccer and hockey are producing this much euphoria, think of the joy that could be triggered by a dramatic win in the great American pastime.
What if Team USA had played Japan in the 2006 WBC championship game? Picture Rogers Clemens on the mound, going toe-to-toe with Daisuke Matsuzaka in a pitchers’ duel that has the feel of October baseball. Then, with the score tied in the ninth, Ken Griffey Jr. slaps the ball through the infield, sending in Derek Jeter for the winning run. The bench clears before Jeter crosses the plate and a new American hero is mobbed at first base.
“SportsCenter” would have immortalized the moment, fueling a hype machine that would have hooked a larger audience for the 2009 encore.
Unfortunately, the WBC failed to produce such moments in its first two iterations and, as a result, it’s struggling to attract star power this time around, which gives us even less incentive to watch.
In 2006, Team USA featured marquee names such as Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Johnny Damon. Now, the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Mike Trout and Buster Posey are sitting it out, fearful of injury and disrupting the rhythm of spring training.
But maybe it isn’t too late. Perhaps an indelible win for the red, white and blue at AT&T Park is what the WBC needs to gain momentum. San Francisco does seem to be the home of a lot of winners these days. Who knows? Maybe the good fortune will ?rub off.
Paul Gackle is a regular contributor to The San Francisco Examiner and also writes at www.gacklereport.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @GackleReport.