A year after winning a league-best 107 games, the Giants came back to Earth in a big way last season, regressing to a .500 record while posing little threat in the NL playoff race (six games back of Philadelphia for the final Wild Card spot). The misery continued with a difficult offseason, losing Carlos Rodon in free agency while falling short in their pursuits of Aaron Judge and Carlos Correa, with the latter failing his physical on the eve of his Giants introduction. Frustrating as the past year has been, the Giants, at least for one night, could say they were better than the reigning World Baseball Classic champs, beating Team USA in a stunning upset Wednesday at Scottsdale Stadium.
Anchored by memorable turns from Anthony DeSclafani and Sean Manaea (four hits, one run over six combined innings), the Giants delivered a knockout blow to a lineup chock full of All-Stars including Dodgers leadoff man Mookie Betts, Angels slugger Mike Trout, reigning MVP Paul Goldschmidt, former batting champ Jeff McNeil and Phillies $300-million man Trea Turner. Granted, it was merely a warmup for Team USA with little in the way of stakes, though it doesn’t make the win any less impressive, earning bragging rights over one of the most prolific collections of talent the sport has ever produced.
If nothing else, Wednesday should serve as a needed reality check for the Americans, a warm slice of humble pie ahead of their upcoming matchup with Great Britain in Saturday’s tournament opener at Chase Field. While group stage action is already underway in Japan (where Shohei Ohtani logged four shutout innings while also contributing an RBI double in a win over China), teams on the other side of the bracket are still getting acclimated, with Israel, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, Britain, Colombia, Venezuela, Canada and Mexico all staging exhibition games to ward off rust. Kiké Hernandez even experienced the novelty of facing his own team, donning road grays as Puerto Rico’s starting center-fielder against the Red Sox.
Though nowhere near the global spectacle of FIFA’s quadrennial World Cup, the WBC is certainly a source of pride for its players, giving them the rare chance to represent their home country on an international stage. It also taps into fans’ inherent nostalgia, serving as a showcase for countless former big-leaguers including Matt Harvey (Italy), Yoenis Cespedes (Cuba) and Puerto Rico manager Yadier Molina.