Saturday night’s quarterfinal clash between the United States and Venezuela showcased everything wonderful and troubling about the World Baseball Classic at once.
Londepot Park, barely occupied for the hometown Miami Marlins on most nights, was packed with crowds of Venezuelan supporters. This saw Team USA win a thrilling, seesaw game 9-7 and advance to play Cuba in the semi-finals on Sunday. But sandwiched among the October-like delirium was a buzz that could change the course of the upcoming Major League Baseball season for the eventual World Series champion.
This happened in the bottom of the fifth inning with no outs. Venezuela, trailing 5–2, had runners on second and third base against Team USA right-hander Daniel Bard. Houston Astros star second baseman José Altuve, the Venezuelan leadoff hitter, was at the plate. The place was collapsing.
Byrd, the Colorado Rockies closer, had already thrown a wild pitch during Altuve’s at-bat that bounced over the backstop. The next one hit Altuve’s right arm. The 2017 American League Most Valuable Player fell to the ground writhing in pain. Suddenly, silence. Altuve was immediately taken out of the game. Venezuela was left without one of its best players for the night. The Astros were left wondering whether they would be without their best player for the start of the regular season.
Three innings later, Trey Turner, Team USA’s No. 9 hitter, dealt the Venezuelans another blow, smashing a go-ahead grand slam over the left field wall. The former Dodgers shortstop screamed and stomped his way to first base. His teammates robbed him at home plate. Team USA’s hitting coach Ken Griffey Jr. hugs him in the dugout.
The blast, the third Grand Slam for the United States in WBC history, was another mesmerizing sequence in this tournament, as Altuve’s injury ended the bottom of the fifth inning.
Bard, whose career had been derailed by the Yips 12 years earlier, threw another wild pitch that hit Anthony Santander on a leg and brought home another Venezuelan run. Santander eventually made a walk to load the bases and chase Bard.
Luis Arraz welcomed Jason Adams with an RBI groundout before Salvador Pérez hit a score-tying double down the left-field line. Two pitches later, Ronald Acuna Jr. launched a sacrifice fly to Mike Trout in deep center field to give Venezuela a 6–5 lead.
Arréz added a solo home run – his second homer of the night – off the right field foul pole to double Venezuela’s lead. No Marlins infielder has ever hit that many home runs in a single major or minor league game. Effort was not enough.
Moments later, Venezuela announced that Altuve’s right arm was being evaluated. The Astros are expected to provide an update on Sunday.
Lastly, Altuve could join New York Mets closer Edwin Díaz as all-stars who have suffered significant injuries this WBC. Diaz tore the patellar tendon in his right knee while celebrating Puerto Rico’s victory over the Dominican Republic on Wednesday. He missed the season after the Mets signed him to a five-year, $102 million contract in November.
Both are weird injuries in different ways. Could Altuve’s injury play into the spring training game? Absolutely. Could the intensity of the game add to the wildness of the Bard? also possible. But it didn’t matter to the Astros. They are now wondering how long they will last without him.