Seth Lugo’s had a lot of “biggest games of his career” in the past year, given that he was fighting to stay in the majors for much of last season. But last night, he took the ball representing Puerto Rico in what might forever be the biggest game of his career, the World Baseball Classic Championship Game.
In the classic Bill Simmons running diary style, I decided to follow Lugo’s start to provide some stream-of-consciousness analysis.
9:00 PM: I turn on ESPN2, which for some reason has the rights to this game. UCF leads Illinois in a NIT game with 12.3 seconds left. I go back to my BP chat. Hopefully this ends quickly.
9:02 PM: We break into the United States being introduced and apparently ESPN2 is the Spanish language feed and my program lied to me? Off to the MLB Network … where Eric Hosmer appears to have brass knuckles on during player introductions. The United States is being introduced to some country riff.
9:04 PM: Puerto Rico, meanwhile, is introduced to salsa music, all showing off their different versions of blonde hair. Carlos Beltran features his beard because he’s bald. T.J. Rivera looks really uncomfortable doing modeling.
9:06 PM: Our first appearance of tonight’s hero, Seth Lugo, rubbing down a baseball in the bullpen. Seth does not show off his hair. Onto the national anthems, where we finally see Lugo’s glorious dye job.
9:13 PM: Matt Vasgersian is on my television. He hasn’t referred to anyone as “property” yet, but I’ve got my clicker ready for the Spanish-language feed if his verbiage declaring that MLB teams own their players gets too bad.
9:16 PM: An Eric Hosmer hype package and interview airs, seemingly to blunt his inexplicable continual presence in the lineup over Paul Goldschmidt. I’ve heard the same playing time promise stuff as anyone, but didn’t anyone in the Diamondbacks front office bother to get one for Goldy? Even beyond that, you can argue that the United States has literally its three best hitters on the bench tonight between Goldschmidt, Daniel Murphy, and Buster Posey. At no point has the United States really played this like it counted instead of like, well, Spring Training, but that all really highlights it.
9:19 PM: Lugo finally takes the mound to more salsa music. Vasgersian goes over his familiar backstory, as a late-late-late draft pick out of Centenary College. Color man John Smoltz goes over his other story, the curveball with the best spin rate in the majors. Smoltz seems really impressed with Lugo.
9:22 PM: Lugo’s first pitch is a 91 MPH two-seamer which late-breaking villain Ian Kinsler beats into the ground to Carlos Correa at third for an easy out. Baseball can be so easy sometimes.
9:24 PM: Adam Jones grounds to short. If Lugo can keep inducing grounders to the infield, he’s got over-qualified defenders at literally all four positions, and it’ll be a long, long night for the United States.
9:25 PM: Christian Yelich hits an excuse-me double down the LF line, beating a shifted Carlos Correa. Javy Baez’s crazy tag ability nearly gets Yelich at second even though Yelich easily beat the throw.
9:28 PM: Lugo blows away Nolan Arenado with a wicked fastball high at 96 to get out of the jam. This was the type of inning that can convince you that Seth Lugo is very much for real, and he didn’t even throw the curve that much.
9:39 PM: Puerto Rico goes down in order in a boring bottom of the inning. Lugo’s curve sure is spinning a lot, but he hasn’t been able to get it over yet, and he’s facing hitters far too good to be burying them. Eric Hosmer lays off two of them on his way to a walk.
9:41 PM: Yadier Molina’s presentation helps Lugo get expand the inside/low corner with two tough called two-seamers on Andrew McCutchen, setting him up for a Warthen Slider away at 87 for a swinging K. Lugo’s slider development went relatively unnoticed last year, since it wasn’t as stark as Gsellman’s, but he used it more than the vaunted curveball over the course of the season, and it’s an above-average pitch now.
9:42 PM: Brandon Crawford becomes the first person to swing at and miss a Lugo curve by a mile. He makes contact with another one on a 1-2 count, lining it to Lindor, who proceeds to throw a dart to first to nearly double Hosmer off. Review time!
9:48 PM: Lugo makes Giancarlo Stanton look absolutely silly on 3-2 with another Warthen Slider for a swinging strikeout. For all the jokes about Dan Warthen being a magic card for two grades on the slider …
10:02 PM: Lucroy lines another high fastball at 96 back up the middle for a single, because MLB hitters sometimes square up 96 because they own. Smoltz narrates a Statcast video package calling Lugo’s curveball one of the best in the majors. I respect the spin rate stuff, and Lugo’s curveball does sometimes make batters looks very foolish, but I think we might be getting a little out of hand here given that he doesn’t always command it and usually doesn’t use it as an out pitch. Lugo catches Lucroy leaning to nearly pick him off first.
10:03 PM: Lugo hangs an 0-1 two-seamer down the middle that Kinsler hits to left-center for a two-run dinger.
10:07 PM: Adam Jones walks. My phone is getting blown up by Jeffrey Paternostro, who thinks Lugo’s command is going second time through the order as it did sometimes last year. He might be right, but it’s an elimination game so you can’t exactly spend a lot of time thinking about it.
10:09 PM: Lugo follows one of his best changes with one of his best curves to get Christian Yelich to two strikes. Yelich then takes a fastball that Lugo badly overthrew, but somehow hit the high outside corner for strike three.
10:11 PM: As if to prove my point about which breaking ball he’s actually using as the out pitch, Lugo bounces a 55-foot curve for a wild pitch to advance Jones, then buries Arenado for another swinging strikeout with another Warthen Slider. Arenado is one of the dudes that looks like he’s still in March.
10:14 PM: Hosmer intentionally walks. McCutchen strikes out swinging again on another Warthen Slider. Let’s hope Travis d’Arnaud is watching how Yadi is sequencing Lugo tonight.
10:28 PM: Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez puts over Lugo’s performance in the in-game interview as Lugo induces a grounder to second, but reveals that he’s batter-to-batter already here in the fourth given his command and the nature of the game. Lugo gets another swinging strikeout on Stanton, this time with a two-seamer with some pretty hard run.
10:30 PM: Lugo gets away with a hanging slider that Lucroy pops to medium-deep right. He’s through four now, two runs on three hits and three walks, but with seven strikeouts in 69 pitches. Unfortunately for Puerto Rico, Marcus Stroman has been even better.
10:41 PM: Ian Kinsler singles to left on another hanger to lead the fifth off. Double-barrel action behind Lugo in the pen now, and he might be running out of gas.
10:46 PM: Lugo walks Jones on a 3-2 curve that missed inside. Rodriguez seemingly comes out for the hook at 78 pitches, but Lugo talks his way into staying into the game as the manager looks to Molina for his approval.
10:49 PM: Yelich makes Puerto Rico pay for the long hook, lining yet another hanging slider to right for a RBI single. Eddie Rosario airmails the plate, but Lugo backs up the plate to save further advancement. That’s the end of his night.
10:56 PM: If Andrew McCutchen wasn’t still a pretty good runner down the line, Francisco Lindor would’ve just made the greatest defensive play in baseball history.
10:59 PM: One of Lugo’s two inherited runners scores off Tigers relief prospect Joe Jimenez, ending Lugo’s book at four runs over four-plus. A much more visually impressive start than the final line would indicate, and the slider may have legitimately jumped to plus now. But also a start that highlighted the long-term concerns about whether his command and stuff will hold together multiple times through the order.
11:23 PM: United States starter Marcus Stroman has a no-hitter through six. Whether it’ll be ruined by Puerto Rico, Jim Leyland, or the weird pitch-count rules remains to be seen. (A championship round starter cannot start a batter at more than 95 pitches.)
11:49 PM: A fourth option has appeared: a top of the seventh so long that it’s nearing on the length of a short rain delay. I look up the rules to find out that there’s no mercy rule in the championship round. The U.S. leads 7-0.
11:52 PM: Vasgersian just went into full home run call for what ended up being a 300-foot flyball, shortly after another “property” reference. This WBC has been amazing, but it’s winding to a tedious end.
11:56 PM: After a half-hour-plus sitting, Stroman promptly gives up a leadoff double to Angel Pagan and leaves to the loudest crowd response of the night. While most American players, even including some on the team, clearly don’t care much about the WBC, Stroman has been really fired up all night, and that continues in the dugout. We get what I think is the night’s first Daniel Murphy sighting in the high-five line.
12:52 AM: An hour later, the United States wins. Pat Neshek carries out an eagle statue to the mound for the team to pose with. James Brown’s “Living In America” is the celebration song. Seth Lugo is probably already on his way back to Mets camp. Opening Day is now only 10 days away.
Photo Credit: Gary A. Vasquez–USA TODAY Sports