Jonathan Schoop’s dramatic homer among biggest blasts in the WBC so far

Orioles minor leaguer Jonathan Schoop took a swing and produced one of the most dramatic hits so far in the World Baseball Classic.

Schoop’s three-run homer in the top of the sixth turned a one-run lead for the Netherlands into a four-run edge in a 6-2 upset win over Cuba in a second-round opening game.

Schoop also had a single and RBI double in this game. He went 3-for-6 with four RBIs against a Cuba team that went 3-0, allowing just five total runs in the first round. He came to bat with the bases loaded in the ninth, but grounded out.

You can find highlights from the game here.

Schoop had gone 1-for-9 in three first-round games for the Netherlands, but the one hit was a two-run homer.

Schoop, who hit 14 homers in 124 games last season for Double-A Bowie, came up in the sixth with two on and two outs and the Netherlands clinging to a 2-1 lead. They needed a big hit to gain at least one insurance run and Schoop’s blast to left gave them more than that, as their dugout erupted out on to the field. Schoop’s night got even better when he smoked an RBI double down the left-field line in the top of the eighth to give the Netherlands a 6-2 lead.

With a few key swings, the 21-year-old O’s prospect certainly added to his resume and made a name for himself in this tournament. I can’t imagine he has hit a bigger homer in his career, as an amateur or pro.

It was all part of a nice night for the Orioles in the event as Pedro Strop was the winning pitcher earlier Thursday as the Dominican Republic beat Venezuela 9-3. Strop came on to pitch out of a jam and then stayed in the game. He went 1 2/3 innings, retiring all five batters he faced, fanning two, including Miguel Cabrera. He threw 20 pitches, 14 for strikes in a very sharp performance.

Meanwhile Team USA will play its first WBC game tonight.

Maybe I am wrong, but I sense more interest in the United States this time around for the WBC. Team USA begins its Pool D play this evening against Mexico. Canada and Italy are also in Pool D and two teams will advance from that group to the second round.

It appears that Major League Baseball has made a pretty strong PR push this time around, as the event has more sponsors this time and every game is being televised live by MLB Network.

What might really get stateside fans excited would be if Team USA could actually win the event. The Americans didn’t win in 2006 or 2009 and have never even reached the championship game.

But this year’s team looks pretty formidable with a strong lineup that includes Adam Jones in center field flanked by Ryan Braun and Giancarlo Stanton. Will this be the year for the USA to win the WBC?

Some World Baseball Classic facts:

* The WBC is a competition featuring 16 teams playing 39 games in four nations to determine a champion between March 2-19. The semifinals and finals will be at San Francisco’s AT&T Park March 17 and 19.

* Japan is the two-time WBC champ, beating Cuba 10-6 in the 2006 final and beating Korea 5-3 in the 2009 final.

* Team USA advanced to but lost in Round 2 in 2006 and reached the semifinals before losing to Japan in 2009.

* Starting pitchers have a pitch limit of 65 in first-round games, 80 in the second-round games and 95 in the semifinals and finals.

* There are 43 MLB All-Stars playing in the WBC and eight former MVP or Cy Young Award winners, including Cabrera, Jimmy Rollins, R.A. Dickey, Justin Morneau, Miguel Tejada, Joe Mauer, Joey Votto and Braun.

The list of players from the O’s organization that played in 2006:

Erik Bedard - Canada
Daniel Cabrera - Dominican Republic
Bruce Chen - Panama
Geronimo Gil - Mexico
Ramon Hernandez - Venezuela
Adam Loewen - Canada
Rodrigo Lopez - Mexico
Luis Matos - Puerto Rico
John Stephens - Australia
Miguel Tejada - Dominican Republic

The list from the Orioles’ organization that played in 2009:

Mike Costanzo - Italy
Jeremy Guthrie - USA
Cesar Izturis - Venezuela
Melvin Mora - Venezuela
Brian Roberts - USA

The list from the O’s organization playing this time:

Allan de San Miguel - Australia
Jonatan Isenia - Netherlands
Adam Jones - USA
Rafael Moreno - Brazil
Chris Robinson - Canada
Jonathan Schoop - Netherlands
Tim Smith - Canada
Pedro Strop - Dominican Republic

It is probably time that all fans here realize that baseball is a global sport and the game is played at the pro level in many countries around the world. Foreign-born players make up about 25 percent, on average, of major league rosters and I see that number going up, not down, in the future.

Some players now well known in the major leagues were first exposed to an American audience in the WBC. Yoenis Cespedes hit .458 in the 2009 event for Cuba. Yu Darvish went 2-1 with a 2.08 ERA for Japan in 2009 with 20 strikeouts in 13 innings and he was the winning pitcher in the championship game.

But for the event to truly gain traction in the United States, I think Team USA needs a strong showing and maybe only winning the event will be enough. No, the WBC doesn’t prove which nation has the best players since some of the best players are skipping this event. But it does prove that good baseball is played in a lot of places outside the U.S. and there is plenty of talent in Japan, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, to name just a few places.

I see the WBC as interesting and good for the sport even if many Americans have little interest in or follow the tournament at this point.

Click here to check out the WBC’s official website.

What is your take?: Do you have interest in the WBC? Have you watched the games? Will you follow the U.S squad? What will it take for the WBC to become more popular?

Update: This update provided this afternoon by MLB: As Team Japan began its quest for a third consecutive World Baseball Classic championship, fans in the country tuned in at levels matched only by the world’s biggest sporting events. One-third of all televisions on in Japan were tuned to the World Baseball Classic for its three first round games from Fukuoka, topping all broadcasts of the 2012 Summer Olympics competition as well as all other non World Cup sporting events in Japan over the past year.

The peak viewership for TV Asahi in Japan came during the team’s 5-3 victory over Brazil to begin Pool A play on Saturday, March 2, which drew a 35 share (percentage of viewers whose television was on). Japan’s next game against China the following day, which Japan won 5-2, drew a 30 share, as did the final game of Pool A between Japan and Cuba once both had already qualified for the second round.

This makes it clear to me that this event is a huge deal in places like Japan and it is gaining interest in this country.

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