WBC Five Cuts: USA vs. Dutch
Team USA's original game plan never involved Derek Jeter as a full-time DH
Matt Lindstrom erred in playing on a sore shoulder and throwing at Vince Rooi
MIAMI -- 1. It was bad enough for the WBC when Team USA let its game with Puerto Rico get out of hand for the sake of making sure pitcher Jake Peavy "got his work in." But Sunday confirmed the very worst fears of WBC opponents: Tt is nothing but accidents waiting to happen.
Team USA was so battered by injuries that manager Davey Johnson alerted Ted Lilly, a $40 million pitcher for the Cubs, to be ready to play leftfield. Leftfield! Instead, he filled the outfield spot with Brian McCann, the All-Star catcher for the Braves, who never had played an inning in his professional life at any other position but catcher.
"Greatest half inning of my life," gushed McCann, who borrowed Mark DeRosa's outfielders' glove to play there.
Somehow, I don't believe Atlanta manager Bobby Cox saw the episode with the same enthusiasm.
"I wasn't going to do anything crazy out there," McCann said.
Excuse me? Have you seen what has happened to your club in the WBC? Anything can happen. In two days the USA lost four players to injuries: Dustin Pedroia and Chipper Jones, who left the team because of rib-cage injuries, Matt Lindstrom, who will be examined by doctors Tuesday for a sore pitching shoulder that forced him out of the game Sunday, and Ryan Braun, who also left the game with a rib-cage injury of his own. Though Braun said the strain he felt in his right side was mild and he expected to be ready for the next game, why would the Brewers allow Braun to play Tuesday with even a hint that he is putting himself at further risk -- especially when Braun suffered the same injury last season?
2. Davey Johnson is left with a two-man bench: his backup catcher, Chris Ianetta, and DeRosa. That's it -- unless you count Lilly as an outfielder. (Johnson liked the way he runs after balls during batting practice. No kidding.) Derek Jeter has likely transformed into the full-time DH for Team USA, which does wonders for getting him ready for the Yankees' season. He has played half of two games at shortstop in the past seven days.
And remember, too, that Rays reliever J.P. Howell of Team USA also suffered an injury during the WBC. He was throwing a bullpen session at the Rogers Centre in Toronto when he was struck on the left arm by a home run ball during batting practice -- his pitching arm, of course. He hasn't pitched in a game in more than a week, putting him behind his usual spring schedule.
What is going on here? Are players getting hurt by the awkward schedule with so many days off? Is there the same level of training care and prevention they would get in a normal spring training? "There's a lot of stretching and running before guys do anything," McCann said. "I don't think that has anything to do with that." Are players being asked to play at an intensity level for which their bodies are not prepared? "To a certain extent," Braun admitted. "It's a little different playing meaningful games this early."
Once again, the worst thing the WBC can do is send players back to their major league teams with injuries or a lack of proper work. If even by a streak of lousy luck, the worst-case scenario has been in play too often.
3. Matt Lindstrom did his macho best to fire up an international incident. The Marlins reliever surrendered a towering home run to the Netherlands' Bryan Englehardt, who admired it for, at most, two seconds, took a skip and headed around the bases. It was far from a serious breach of protocol -- except to Lindstrom.
"I thought he took a little too long watching it," Lindstrom said.
So what did he do? Lindstrom threw the next pitch behind the backside of somebody named Vince Rooi. Well, isn't that great. Here is a major league pitcher laying down the law against the Netherlands -- the mighty Netherlands, I tell you! -- in a blowout game and against a one-consonant infielder known only to fans of the Dutch and Scrabble.
Johnson embarrassed himself in the postgame news conference with a sloppy lie to cover for Lindstrom, saying, "He wasn't throwing at the third baseman. He was trying to hop up and get a little extra on him and the ball got away from him."
Of course, it wasn't close to being true.
"I was just trying to send a message," Lindstom admitted. "If I was trying to hit him, I probably could have."
The Dutch stormed out of their dugout and shouted at Lindstrom and home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman, who was derelict in his duties for not ejecting Lindstrom immediately. It was that obvious.
"I thought that was classless," Netherlands manager Rod Delmonico said of Lindstrom's bully tactics.
As the Dutch displayed their anger for all to see, the United States players did something very interesting: Nothing at all. Players pawed at the dirt and grass with their spikes, no one moving to get between the Dutch players and their pitcher.
"You can't fault them for that," Jimmy Rollins said of the Dutch's reaction.
Rooi flied out to rightfield and headed back to the dugout by running directly past Lindstrom, making sure to say some sweet nothing in his ear. Rest assured it was not "Hup, Holland, hup."
Lindstrom said he could not say what Rooi told him because it was "not appropriate." But when asked if he feared Rooi might escalate the situation as he ran toward him, Lindstrom said, "If he was going to do something he would have done it."
Gee, can't wait for the rematch in 2013.
4. Lindstrom's impersonation of a sheriff might not even have been his dumbest act of the night. That would be reserved for going out to the mound with a sore shoulder. Lindstrom said he felt soreness in his shoulder while warming up, and decided he could try to pitch through it. Twelve pitches later, he had to be removed from the mound with a sore shoulder that will be examined by Marlins doctors Monday.
"For pitchers [the WBC] is more dangerous than it is for hitters," Braun said, "especially the velocity guys trying to throw hard when they're not ready to do that."
5. By the way, to follow up on that 11-1 debacle to Puerto Rico, the last time Team USA suffered the embarrassment of losing via the mercy rule occurred in 1999 at the Intercontinental Cup in Sydney, Australia. It was the first USA Baseball team using professional players, though they were nothing like the star-studded cast that flopped against Puerto Rico. Most were independent ball players. The pitchers were Kevin Pincavich, Scott Conner and Aaron Jersild. Chad Thornill, not Derek Jeter, was the starting shortstop. In other words, you would be safe to assume that the 11-1 defeat Saturday to Puerto Rico was the most embarrassing loss in USA Baseball history.
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