SARASOTA, Fla. - Reliever Pedro Strop flew from San Francisco to Orlando last night, slept until around noon and raced to the Ed Smith Stadium complex.
“I wanted to be here so bad,” he said with a big grin.
Strop tossed eight scoreless innings for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic and stranded two runners in the championship game. He was clutch.
“It was unbelievable,” he said. “I don’t even know how to describe this experience. An unbelievable feeling. That’s the only thing I can say.
“Obviously, (manager) Tony Pena knows me a little bit from the league. As soon as I showed him that I was throwing good and feeling good, he trusted me and he was giving me the ball in any kind of situation that he thought I was able to get out of.”
Strop was asked to compare the WBC experience to last year’s American League Division Series.
“When you’re in the playoffs, with the team you play for, it’s emotional, too,” Strop said, “but when you play for your country, and this is kind of a short tournament ...
“In the playoffs, if you lose a game, you have a chance to pick up and go back and play a game the next day. In the World Baseball Classic, if you lose, you’re gone. The intensity is kind of harder.”
Now Strop will be downshifting from the high-intensity environment of the WBC to spring training.
“It’s a game,” he said. “If I’ve got to pitch today, I’m just going to pitch the way I have to, to try and get outs, because all what the baseball gods say, all the emotion, all that playing for your county, all that is part of your preparation for the season. That’s the most important thing, the season. Be ready to give your team a chance to win.”
Strop kept doing it in the WBC, including the Dominican’s first game of the tournament, when he came back out for a second inning after getting two outs. The Orioles were a bit uneasy about Strop throwing multiple innings.
“I was pitching a little bit in winter ball,” he said. “Before I left to pitch for the WBC, I pitched here, too. I pitched in the intrasquad game, then I pitched in like (four) of the games here, and I felt good.
“That inning, I just throw like six or seven pitches in the first inning. Then the next inning, it wasn’t a lot of pitches. I know Buck (Showalter) was going to be like ‘What’s going on?’ But at the same time, I knew it wasn’t a lot of pitches, so I wasn’t going to do anything stupid, either.”
The Dominicans seemed to have the home-field advantage over Team USA while playing in Miami.
“We were in the U.S., but we knew that we were in Miami and there are a lot of Dominicans in Miami,” Strop said. “We kind of knew the Dominicans were going to support us in the field. It was kind of weird. You’re in the U.S., you’re playing against the U.S. team and you see that many people supporting you. It was weird, but it was fun at the same time.”
Asked to name one moment that stood out for him, Strop chose the first team meeting.
“That was the key for everything,” he said. “Everybody talked, everybody said something, everybody was pushing in the same direction. That was the key for the team. The past two WBCs, they didn’t do the job that everybody expected us to, and we were focused on doing good work, to do a good thing and show the world that we can play. We were going to do what everybody expected us to do, and in the first meeting we talked about it. Let’s push this together, and we worked together.”
I’m still working on getting the Orioles’ lineup. I haven’t forgotten.
Notes: Brian Roberts and Adam Jones are in tonight’s lineup. That much has been confirmed.
Jonathan Schoop will travel to Port Charlotte for Friday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays. Showalter may start him at second base. He hasn’t decided.
Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman will start Sunday. Showalter and pitching coach Rick Adair are deciding on the locations.
No cuts are expected today.