“We had a goal — to put the U.S.A. on top of the baseball world where it belongs, and we did exactly that,” said first baseman Eric Hosmer, who played on the 2013 team that was eliminated by Puerto Rico. “So we’re proud of the guys. It’s an awesome experience.”
Hosmer was speaking on the field, shortly after he and his teammates stood atop a stage and had gold medals placed around their necks. It was a scene that was not a foregone conclusion earlier in the W.B.C.
The United States, which had advanced to the semifinals once in the three previous tournaments, had a shaky start to this tournament. The Americans needed extra innings to beat Colombia, squandered a 5-0 lead against the Dominican Republic in Miami and lost to Puerto Rico in the second round in San Diego.
Since that defeat, they have won three consecutive elimination games, beating the Dominican Republic, Japan and Puerto Rico.
“I don’t want to bore you, but my theme all along has been, ‘Make a memory, fellas,’” Leyland said.
They have made plenty lately. The pitchers allowed just two runs in the last 26 innings of the tournament, and Stroman was the latest starter to turn in a superb effort. Center fielder Adam Jones delivered signature hits and catches, shortstop Brandon Crawford was a wizard defensively, and on Wednesday it was Kinsler who supplied the offensive firepower.
Kinsler, who created a stir on social media earlier in the day when his comments about the different styles of play in the tournament were interpreted by some as a criticism of Latino players, hit his two-run homer off Seth Lugo in the third inning. He singled and scored on Christian Yelich’s single in the fifth, which put the United States ahead, 3-0, and chased off Lugo, the Mets right-hander.
Andrew McCutchen’s infield single later in the inning gave the United States a 4-0 lead. When Crawford hit a bases-loaded, two-out, full-count single in the seventh, it ended any suspense. The spirited Puerto Ricans never had any reason to get energized.
It was a redemptive performance for Stroman, who gave up hits to the first six batters he faced in the game last week against Puerto Rico, a 6-5 loss. He was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player after the final.
A diminutive right-hander with a fiery personality, Stroman was eligible to pitch for Puerto Rico, where his mother was born. He and his mother had been taunted on social media since he declared in December that he would pitch for the United States. (After the 2013 tournament, he expressed hope that he could represent Puerto Rico in this year’s tournament.)
Stroman, who feeds off emotion, was in command all night. He had a no-hitter until Angel Pagan lined a double into the left-field corner to lead off the seventh. He then left to a standing ovation, pounding his chest emphatically as he reached the dugout steps.
“I love pitching in these moments. I love the atmosphere,” Stroman said. “I feel like the bigger the game, the more I’m able to get up, the more effective I am. I truly try to pride myself on being a big-game pitcher. This was probably one of the biggest — if not the biggest — game I’ve ever pitched in, and that was just a nod to coming off with the lead and giving us an opportunity to win that game.”
Stroman allowed only one other base runner, walking Carlos Beltran to begin the second. But he was quickly erased when Yadier Molina grounded into a double play. Only four Puerto Rico hitters hit the ball out of the infield. And when Stroman struck out Carlos Correa to end the fourth, he barked toward the Puerto Rican dugout as he strutted off the mound.
Such displays of emotion — whether spurred by competitive juices or exuberance — have been rare for the United States players, who have bristled at suggestions that players from the Caribbean or Asia, with their attendant bat flips and celebrations for a fine play, were having more fun in this tournament.
“We’re having fun,” said Willie Randolph, the third-base coach for the United States. “We’re having a blast. Just because we’re not trying to keep up with somebody else on the enthusiasm gauge, that’s not really important. Our team is as excited as any team in this.”
While Puerto Rican players have talked frequently about how they are playing for the people back home, where the country is mired in an economic crisis, the Americans’ bond has been developed over the course of the tournament.
While many of the United States players knew each other, it was in the casual manner of baseball relationships: chitchat during batting practice or standing around on the bases. Players from many other countries had connections that ran far deeper, some back to youth baseball or through the shared experience of making it off the island.
But as their time together progressed, from when they reported to Fort Myers, Fla., to games in Miami, San Diego and then here, the bond between the Americans deepened. Some of it was forged in the cozy auxiliary clubhouses they were forced to share while they waited for another team to clear out of the main clubhouse. To those who did not play much, Leyland found ways to get them involved, enlisting little-used Josh Harrison and Alex Bregman to represent the United States in a flag ceremony before the game.
It was one way to ensure all the American players had a memory — on a night when they collected one together.