There was a perfect game in the World Baseball Classic on Monday. The Puerto Rico pitching staff, led by a perfect 5.2 innings from journeyman José De León, didn’t surrender a baserunner to Israel. Normally, that’d be pretty amazing, even by modern-day pitching standards. But — and I definitely foreshadowed a but — Puerto Rico only had to record 24 outs due to the mercy rule, and Israel didn’t get three more chances to avoid infamy.
It was the kind of story that’s perfect in an opening rundown on Sportscenter because it sounds awesome. Then once you get into the specifics and look at the rosters, it’s a little sensationalized. Israel boasts two big-league bats in Joc Pederson and Garrett Stubbs, with a couple of promising bats, especially for those prospect perverts in Chicago. After that, it’s a bunch of guys who’d have trouble making contact at a batting cage.
Not fooling the WBC audience
The World Baseball Classic name itself is a little misleading. Technically, it’s accurate, like calling PR’s perfect game a perfect game, but this is really a niche event to get baseball fans excited for the season and to make a few bucks. The people watching the games aren’t folks wandering onto the diamond like the bachelorette party who got off at the Addison stop and asked, “Where’s Wrigley?”
Most likely they’re the sort of die-hards who know how to, and still do, fill out a scorecard over nine innings (or in this case eight). And the scorecard from Puerto Rico’s perfect game won’t become some keepsake. That doesn’t mean they didn’t enjoy watching it.
The general sense I get from those following the tournament is that they like the product. It’s a unique format, national pride always gets the blood flowing, and we actually get to see Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani on rosters capable of competing for something. (I can do without Tom Verducci trying to spin Team USA as a reintroduction to baseball’s best player though.)
Puerto Rico manager — and a man who will be rumored to take over in St. Louis until he does — Yadier Molina had to pull De León due to pitch restrictions, so even if they wanted to see how long he could’ve stayed perfect, the rules would not have allowed it.
Regardless, congratulations are in order for De León… Yacksel Ríos, Edwin Diaz, and Duane Underwood Jr. The three relievers tallied the final seven outs before Enrique Hernández’s walk-off single in the eighth to make it 10-0 and seal the perfection. It was the first perfect game in WBC history, and it will be every bit as forgettable as the tournament itself.
I’m honestly not sure how to feel about pitching performances anymore. Complete games are treated as feats, and that’s cool. There’s no point in risking injury over exhibition games, or regular-season glory. All I’m saying is my guard is up anytime I see “no-hitter” or “perfect game” in a headline.