If you think last night’s outstanding rally by the United States to take out Puerto Rico was a baseball highlight for the ages, you may be right. Difficult as it is to actually want the likes of Derek Jeter and Kevin Youkilis to succeed, you couldn’t help but want that lightning rod, stole-it-from-Ruben-Sierra batting stance to come through. And when David Wright drove in Shane Victorino and Brian Roberts, you had to just forget for a second how badly you want their respective teams to fail at all times.
Yet despite all that, plenty of critics will still blame the WBC for the career-threatening pulled muscles afflicting Dustin Pedroia, Ryan Braun et al. Yet others will say the schedules were tilted in the US’ favor, or that Italy and South Africa had no business playing in any sort of competitive baseball event whatsoever. And those critics, even with their healthy cynicism on full display, will miss the mark entirely because if anything is wrong with the 2009 WBC it is the simple matter of who has been allowed to be arguably the best starting pitcher in the tournament and, by extension, the best starting pitcher in the world.
The best pitcher in the tournament posted a 0.96 ERA and WHIP. He devastated the Panamanian team and handed the Americans one of the worst losses in the Classic’s brief history. Winning meant he never lost as a man of baseball, but by never feasting on the carcasses of second-tier teams he never lost as a man of character, either.
He pitched himself into jams just to show how masterfully he could find his way out of them. His curveball curved in parallel symetry to the ground. His fastball scorched the very air his so-called “competition” struggled to breathe. His pitches were exactly what he and every person around him needed at all times, save for the sad man left holding the bat.
He has the power to silence nations, yet is helpless against mere children. He can slay giants yet go home with nothing to show for his conquests. He has travelled the world fighting for honor, pride and country, yet in the end his magnificent accomplishments let him go home with none of those things.