by Tamar Chalker
March 17, 2023
As we inch closer to Opening Day, the WBC has its first round in the books. The USA secured their ticket to the next round with a win against Columbia on Wednesday. They will face an undefeated (and very stacked) Venezuelan team on Saturday, but this was not the big news from the final games of the first round.
Perhaps one of the most anticipated games of the first round was Puerto Rico/Dominican Republic with both teams playing for the chance to move forward. Both teams have strong lineups and the game itself didn’t disappoint. Puerto Rico pulled off a thrilling upset in a contest that had everything from a boisterous and passionate crowd, home runs, spectacular defensive plays, and great pitching. Francisco Lindor even turned a routine single to center into an inside-the-park home run when Julio Rodriguez misplayed the ball.
Edwin Diaz closed out the game for Puerto Rico, striking out Teoscar Hernandez to seal the victory. For a moment, there was pure, joy from the Puerto Rican players and fans, but it was short-lived. The celebration suddenly stopped and Diaz was on the ground, eventually needing help from his team and a wheelchair. After having his knee looked at on Thursday, it turns out that not only is Diaz done for the WBC, but the Mets’ closer is likely done for the year. He has a full thickness tear of his patellar tendon in his right knee.
This has certainly put a bit of a damper on the WBC, as it seems to indicate the realization of one of the tournament’s biggest fears. I’m sure there will be a lot of people quick to say that perhaps the WBC isn’t worth the risk of such an injury - and there are plenty of players who make that decision and sit it out, as is their prerogative. In my opinion, this is a massive overreaction. Season-ending injuries happen. They happen during Spring Training, in the season itself, or even while a Hall of Fame pitcher is shagging fly balls in the outfield during batting practice. At least those are baseball activities and not, let’s say, a couple of broken ribs from crashing your Porsche…
There is an accepted risk of injury whenever a player laces up their cleats and I think that understandably extends to a team celebrating a big win. It is rare, but not unheard of, that someone ends up injured in those moments - and if you’ve ever been lucky enough to find yourself in the midst of one of those celebrations - perhaps it is surprising there aren’t more injuries in them.
Does this mean that players should avoid such merriment after a well-fought victory? I’d say absolutely not! If we ever reach a point where the money in baseball has owners telling players not to celebrate it would suck the spirit from the game. So I really hope this doesn’t become a conversation.
I do worry that this could make for a lot fewer MLB players in future WBCs and that would be a true bummer. The tournament is starting to get really exciting. Cuba and Japan are already through to the semi-finals. Japan and Venezuela are both undefeated, the USA and Puerto Rico teams are both a lot of fun to watch. With teams like Italy and Australia making it as far as the quarter-finals, it shows the global reach of the game and that is fantastic.
The problem with the WBC, as I see it, has always been the timing - and I’m not sure there is a good answer to that problem. Do you do it after the World Series? After a season of 162 games and playoffs, I feel like that would be a tough sell for a lot of players who need to give their bodies a break. On the other hand, doing it during Spring Training means you are also dealing with players who are still “warming up” as it were.
Injuries are going to occur, whether the WBC is happening or not. I hope just hope it doesn’t become the scapegoat for a freak, unfortunate accident. If anything, they should just chalk it up to something that would absolutely happen to the Mets. I mean, it’s pretty on brand for the other New York team… In all seriousness - I truly hope Diaz recovers as quickly and fully as possible so he can be back on the mound by 2024.