What they tell you about baseball a lot, is that because everyone gets a turn, you can’t guarantee that your best player will get to the plate with the game on the line. Sometimes it’s your second baseman with no concept of the strike zone who wets himself at the sight of any fastball over 96 MPH. Sometimes you can’t even guarantee you can throw your best pitcher, depending on how you deploy your pen, or if the game goes to extra innings, or if your manager insists that closers can only pitch the ninth before he battles his latest case of incontinence. That’s the 162, everyone’s going to matter at some point.
But late at night, when the demons come, if you asked Rob Manfred how he’d want the WBC to end, it would have been USA v. Japan, game tied or the U.S. trailing by a run, with Shohei Ohtani on the mound vs. Mike Trout. A matchup we don’t think about normally, the best player of his generation against someone we literally have never seen anything like before. Comparisons to Babe Ruth? That fat fuck had nothing on Ohtani as a pitcher.
Manfred got his wish, which is obviously the worst way to frame what may end up the coolest moment of the entire baseball season. Or the past several seasons. Enjoy it without thinking about the commissioner.
One of the aspects MLB is missing out on by scheduling the WBC when it does, and one of the things Olympic hockey actually gets right, is the months of anticipation fans go through building rosters in their head and dreaming about things like Ohtani vs. Trout. It’s a pastime in Canada to build out Olympic hockey rosters even when no one knows if there will be Olympic hockey years in advance. The best part of July 1 and the dawn of free agency is watching TSN fill dead air by projecting out the next Canadian Olympic team years in advance.
But the discussions go on in bars and forums and chatrooms and wherever else. Who’s Connor McDavid gonna play with? Will Leon Draisaitl get to go up against him? Maybe Chris Kreider will get a look at Igor Shesterkin in the knockout round. The rearranging of the best players in the world only happens in fans’ heads, and part of the magic of international competition is seeing it play out in real-time. Ask any soccer fan how many times they’ve designed, torn down, and redesigned a World Cup roster for either of the U.S. teams and the number will be in the hundreds. For the past month.
The WBC taking place during spring training comes without that, as any news before the tourney starts is about who’s not playing. That list will shrink in three years as more players see how this tournament is grown. But again, moving it to July instead of the All-Star game would give a whole new context to the first half of the season.
But now’s not the time to complain or point out some faults of a WBC edition that entertained us so. Ohtani vs. Trout is wrestling dream match booking, a gift to all baseball fans, and at such a moment it feels almost ordained. We may see it again when Ohtani is a Dodger in a year’s time, but there will be other matchups to dream of come the 2026 WBC.
The raw power of each, the threat of each are capable of that so few on the planet are also capable of. 101 MPH against a hitter liable to hit one to Narnia with any swing. It’s rare to see such opposing forces whose collision can rearrange particles. A real-life Alien vs. Predator. Usually, we only get this in October, and even then it’s kind of rare because it’s somewhere in a series. In a Game 7…almost never. Hard to even think of one. It’s why you can’t really copy what we got in the WBC in the MLB season or even playoffs.
Here’s a more exact measure of the density of this matchup:
There’s nothing wrong with letting fans dream about this stuff, and no less so every so often giving it to them. Rob Manfred would do well to remember that once in a while when he’s firebombing most things fans like about baseball.
Ilya Sorokin makes an incredible save
As long as we’re talking about joyful things, and that’s not usually an adjective that gets attached to the New York Islanders, here’s Ilya Sorokin bending reality to deny Erik Gustafsson a net so open it was ready to have its wisdom teeth out.