The best always seem to rise to the occasion, and that was the case for Team USA on Wednesday night against Colombia in the World Baseball Classic. Mookie Betts set the table, and Mike Trout cleared the plates.
“Two of the best in business. Two of the best in the world,” Team USA manager Mark DeRosa said.
Trout drove in all three runs in the 3-2 win at Chase Field—Betts scored two of them—sending the defending World Baseball Classic champions on to Miami for the knockout round and a tough quarterfinal tilt against 4-0 Venezuela at LoanDepot Park Saturday night. After going 1-for-17 in their first two games of the tournament, Betts and Trout had five of their team’s seven hits against the Colombians.
“It’s definitely fun when I know he’s going to get a hit,” Trout, who plays in the Los Angeles area for the Angels, said about Betts, a member of the rival Dodgers. “And when he’s hot, no one is going to get him out. Look at tonight, just him keeping the inning alive and giving me a chance to drive in some runs. And that’s all you can ask.”
Betts took full advantage of Trout’s hitting prowess on the base paths. He singled with two out in the third, went to second on a wild pitch and then scored on Trout’s single. In the fifth, Betts singled again with one out, moving a runner to third and taking second himself on the throw. Trout then drove them both in with a another single.
“All I’ve got to do is get on base, and he’s hitting behind me,” Betts said about playing with Trout. “I normally get pitches to hit, because they don’t want to walk me and send him to the plate with somebody on base. And so, it’s just fun when you put on the same uniform.”
Like Team USA, Mexico finished 3-1 in Pool C play and moved on, marking the first time the Mexicans have advanced from pool play in the WBC since 2009. Mexico, which trounced Canada 10-3 earlier Wednesday, gets Puerto Rico in a single-elimination game on Friday.
“We are very happy with what we have accomplished so far, but I’m not done yet,” Mexico manager Benji Gil said. “I’m not satisfied yet. We took the first step. We still need three more steps. And we are focused.”
Cuba and Japan—the Pool A and B winners, respectively—won quarterfinal games in the Tokyo Dome and are among the final six teams left standing. That means the possibility of Trout facing Japanese star Shohei Ohtani, his Angels teammate, is still on the table.
The U.S had to fight back and beat Canada and Colombia after a deflating 11-5 loss to Mexico on Sunday night in order to move on to the next round.
“Mexico woke us up,” DeRosa said.
Trout felt Team USA put destiny in its own hands after beating Canada.
“We’re definitely in control,” Trout said after the win against Canada. “But we knew after the loss [to Mexico] we had to win out, and see what happens.”
Trout, who has never won a postseason game as a member of the Los Angeles Angels—he’s only played in three and none since 2014—wasn’t about to be denied the chance to move on to the elimination round.
On Tuesday night against Canada, Trout hit a three-run homer in a nine-run first inning during a lopsided victory. Since that at bat, he was on base five of the next seven times after opening the tournament 2-for-8. He had three hits on Wednesday.
“He’s just one of the best players of all time at the end of the day,” DeRosa said about Trout. “He looks really good at the dish. He’s just super confident in what he’s able to do.”
When the U.S. lost to Mexico, Trout said it was time to build some character.
“The first couple of games we were just trying to feel our way through it,” Trout said. “But ultimately we came in with a mindset that we were going to dominate. And you put that pressure on a group, that’s what’s going to happen.”
Trout didn’t play in the 2017 WBC; he said he felt miserable about that decision, which was only compounded as he watched the U.S. defeat Puerto Rico to win its first title.
Thus far it has been a tournament of surprises. Cuba won its quarterfinal match over Australia in Tokyo and is back in the WBC semifinals for the first time since the inaugural 2006 tournament. Italy made a strong showing this time around before succumbing to Ohtani and Japan in the quarterfinals.
In Miami, the Dominican Republic was supposed to be dominant, but Puerto Rico knocked out the D.R. on Wednesday.
In that game, Mets closer Edwin Diaz struck out the side to eliminate the Dominicans, but in the immediate celebration after the victory, Diaz hurt his leg on the mound and had to be helped off the field.
The Mets, who just re-signed Diaz to a five-year, $102 million contract, subsequently announced that he had injured his right knee. “Edwin Díaz underwent imaging today that revealed a full-thickness tear of the patellar tendon in his right knee,” the Mets said in a statement Thursday, adding that Diaz will have surgery performed by Dr. David Altchek.
“Those things can happen to anybody at any given time,” Betts said. “And you can always place blame it on the WBC, but that’s just a freak accident.”
In Phoenix, the Great Britain team notched its first WBC victory, defeating Colombia. In turn, Colombia handed Mexico its only loss. Both teams finished 1-3 in Pool C.
There were no easy games for any of the five Group C teams. Canada manager Ernie Whitt, who has managed all five of his country’s WBC clubs, has been there to see that growth. Canada finished 2-2, losing to both the U.S. and Mexico.
“Each country has improved its talent,” Whitt said. “There’s a feeling among all the countries to get their better players to play. Those guys feel the passion for their country. And the more Major Leaguers from each country want to play, the better the play will be.
The main WBC tournament expanded from 16 to 20 teams this year, and the gap between the newcomers and the more established baseball countries is starting to close.
Under WBC rules, the top four teams in each of the four pools automatically qualify for the 2027 tournament. The Czech Republic earned automatic qualification, and by virtue of its win over Colombia, Great Britain also secured an automatic berth.
That in itself was a source of accomplishment for the burgeoning British baseball program.
“I think it’s exceptional,” Great Britain manager Drew Spencer said about what his team accomplished. “I feel like we got better every day from the first day of preparation before a qualifier, all the way through to the journey to and through this main tournament. We have to walk away from this and feel like we’ve arrived.”
Now it’s one and done for the remaining teams. The strong will survive, as Trout certainly proved.
(This story has been updated with details of Edwin Diaz’s injury.)