Saturday’s USA-Venezuela classic shows how much baseball has grown internationally and what the WBC games mean to those who choose to play it.
MIAMI—When Bobby Thomson hit what the New York press, in borrowing from Ralph Waldo Emerson, anointed as “The Shot Heard Round the World,” his home run on Oct. 3, 1951 happened on a Wednesday afternoon in New York and at a time when baseball was not played west of St. Louis, when Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier only four years earlier and when the baseball-crazed country of Venezuela had seen only three of its countrymen play in American or National Leagues.
Dare not place the home run Trea Turner hit to beat Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic quarterfinals on Saturday night on par with Thomson’s pennant-winning home run when it comes to historic meaning. But if you want to know how baseball has grown internationally and, more importantly, what the WBC games mean to those who choose to play it, just put Turner’s grand slam and the very un-USA bedlam that followed on a loop.
You’ll get it—if you still have a voice and your ears have stopped ringing.
“I lost my voice,” Turner said with a rasp, “because I was screaming the whole game.”
The skeptics who think the WBC is “just an exhibition” that “nobody cares about” should know that Turner, a 2019 World Series champion with the Nationals, said he had never played in an atmosphere as loud and as charged as loanDeport Park and never reacted as emotionally as he did upon his eighth-inning blast that turned a 7–5 deficit into a 9–7 lead and final score. Turner whirled to face the USA dugout on the first base side and screamed in jubilation. When he arrived back at the plate, the entire team was out of the dugout acting like children. Nobody had ever seen Mike Trout jump around a baseball field like that.
“I need to watch a video because I want to watch those guys,” Turner said. “I think that’s funnier to me. Pretty cool. I heard Pete [Alonso] couldn’t find a bat so he picked up my bat and flipped it. I’m even-keeled. I don’t necessarily show that much emotion. I can’t remember reacting like that.
“I just remember screaming. I don’t remember anything else.”
If his shot wasn’t heard around the world, it did echo around it—and in a more literal and less hyperbolic way than in 1951. A kid from Florida back in his home state hit a home run to beat Venezuela, push the USA into a semifinal game against Cuba on Sunday night and a possible dream matchup against Japan in the final.
“I’ll be honest with you, this is one of the greatest games I’ve ever been a part of,” said USA manager Mark DeRosa, who survived plugging Daniel Bard into a game with a lead (he lost it) and his delay in getting a hopelessly wild Bard out of it quickly enough.
On one field, playing for national pride in a sold-out ballpark, were a combined 24 All-Stars producing 16 runs, 23 hits, 30 baserunners and two comebacks from multiple run deficits.
In talent and passion, it was an epic game.
The American-centric (read, selfish) perspective is to write off the WBC as unimportant.
Astros fans will howl that their second baseman, José Altuve, is feared to miss 6-8 weeks after a pitch from Bard likely broke his right thumb. (With only 17 pitches, Bard gave up four runs, hit a batter, walked two, threw two wild pitches and threw only seven strikes—worrisome for the Rockies considering Bard had to overcome the yips to find his way back to MLB.) As if breaking it in a spring training game would be tolerable.
On a night showcasing international baseball at its best, Max Scherzer of the Mets was pitching 74 miles up the road in a spring training exhibition game. Now that’s meaningless. Like most elite American-born pitchers, Scherzer missed out on the thrill of playing for the USA to stick to the routine of getting ready for the regular season.
But take the global view. The WBC will finish with an attendance of 1.3 million people. In two weeks, the WBC will outdraw what five major-league teams attracted over six months last season (the Marlins, Rays, Pirates, Royals and Guardians). More people watched the Japan-Korea WBC game on television than watched any game in the history of the World Series.
And “nobody cares?”
The world cares. More importantly, the players care. That was evident with the way both sides gallantly chased victory Saturday night. DeRosa challenged his players before the game, knowing the house would be rocking for Venezuela and that the usual too-cool-for-school American lack of emotion would lead to his club getting its doors blown off. His players did not disappoint, coming back after blowing a 5–2 lead and trailing by two runs when down to their final six outs.
The U.S. trailed 7–5 when Venezuela reliever José Quijada stumbled in Bard-like fashion in the eighth. He walked Tim Anderson, allowed a bloop hit to Alonso and hit J.T. Realmuto with a pitch. Venezuela manager Omar López then brought in Silvino Bracho to face Turner.
At that moment, the depth of Team USA was never more apparent. Turner was hitting ninth in the starting lineup for the first time in his major league career—and probably, he said, in his life. Bracho, 29, is a journeyman who has pitched for four organizations, has a career 4.88 ERA and has thrown only 5 1/3 major league innings over the previous four years.
Here was the ask from Lopez: protect the lead with the bases loaded and no one out. Oh, and by the way, the next three hitters were Turner, Mookie Betts and Trout—three players with current contracts of a combined $1.09 billion. That’s more money among three ballplayers than the entire country of Venezuela reportedly had in cash during its financial crisis of 2020.
The task somehow began well, briefly. Bracho jumped ahead of Turner with two fastballs for strikes. At 0–and–2 he decided on a changeup. It was an awful changeup. It hung over the plate, middle third. Turner blasted it well beyond the left-field wall, triggering a ridiculously joyful celebration of shouting and hugging.
“It’s pretty much a postseason atmosphere,” said Ryan Pressly, who closed the game, just as he did for Houston in the World Series last season, “right in the middle of spring training.”
He said it with such wonderment, like Christmas in July.
“It was probably the loudest game I ever played in,” Turner said.
The USA survived. Cuba will be its own test, especially with Adam Wainwright starting the game and DeRosa with no obvious choice to close it, having used every reliever against Venezuela except Kendall Graveman and Aaron Loup. The WBC is never without surprises. It bows to no script or expectation.
But whatever does happen in the semis, with the U.S. taking on Cuba and Japan facing Mexico, the tournament had its international historic moment. It was not just that Turner hit a game-winning grand slam. It also was the unfiltered joy it unleashed from a team of American stars playing for something very important in their own hearts.