The 2023 World Baseball Classic is underway with pool play in Taichung, Taiwan, and Tokyo, Japan. All four pools will be in action this weekend. There are eight games on the schedule Saturday, with start times ranging from 5 a.m. ET to 11 p.m. ET.
The first round features four five-team pools. Each team plays every other team in its pool once, and the teams with the two best records in each pool advance to what is essentially a single-elimination eight-team tournament. Here is the full WBC schedule and here is everything you need to know about this year’s event.
Here is a recap of the late night Thursday and early morning Friday action.
Friday’s World Baseball Classic scores
- Czech Republic 8, China 5 (box score)
- Cuba 13, Panama 5 (box score)
- Japan 13, Korea 4 (box score)
- Chinese Taipei 11, Italy 7 (box score)
- China vs. Australia, 10 p.m. ET, FS2
- Panama vs. Italy, 11 p.m. ET, FS1
Czech Republic’s Cinderella story continues
With a roster featuring regular people with regular jobs who play in the Czech Baseball Extraliga on the weekends, the Czech Republic earned a spot in the World Baseball Classic in a qualifying tournament last fall. They beat France, Germany, and Spain in the qualifier to earn the country’s first ever WBC berth. Needless to say, they entered the tournament as underdogs.
On Friday, the Czech Republic stunned China with a ninth inning rally to earn the country’s first ever WBC win in its first ever WBC game. Outfielder Martin Muzik swatted a go-ahead three-run home run with one out in the top of the ninth inning to turn a 5-4 deficit into a 7-5 lead. It is, without question, the biggest hit in Czech baseball history.
Former big leaguer Eric Sogard, the most recognizable name on the Czech roster, went 2 for 5 in the game. Charleston Southern righty Daniel Padysak threw four hitless innings to begin the game, pumping mostly low-90s fastballs. Angels minor leaguer Alan Carter stood out for China with three innings of one hit, one unearned run relief.
China is one of the weaker teams in the WBC and is now 0-2 in pool play. The Czech Republic is 1-0.
Cuba blows out Panama in must-win game
After dropping its first two WBC games, Friday was a must-win for Cuba, and the team quickly fell behind 4-2 against Panama. It wasn’t until the late innings that they broke the game open. Four runs in the sixth, five runs in the seventh, and another two runs in the eighth gave Cuba breathing room and its first win of the 2023 WBC.
White Sox teammates Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert went a combined 5 for 11 and drove in six runs for Cuba. Moncada plated the the go-ahead run in the sixth inning rally. First baseman Yadir Drake, who plies his trade in the Mexican League, went 4 for 4. Yoenis Cespedes went 0 for 6 in Cuba’s first two games and was benched Friday.
Four Cuban relievers combined for 7 2/3 scoreless innings after starter Ronald Bolaños (Royals) surrendered four runs in 1 1/3 innings. Former big leaguer Ruben Tejada went deep for Panama. Cuba and Panama are now both 1-2 in the WBC and face an uphill battle to advance out of pool play.
Nootbaar and Ohtani lead Japan over Korea
Friday brought us the first heavyweight matchup of the WBC: Japan vs. Korea, Yu Darvish vs. former Cardinals lefty Kwang Hyun Kim. Korea struck first when Euiji Yang, the best catcher in Korean baseball history, slugged a two-run homer against Darvish, his second homer in as many days.
Japan answered back with a four-run third inning that includes run-scoring singles by Cardinals outfielder Lars Nootbaar and new Red Sox outfielder Masataka Yoshida. Kensuke Kondoh of the Nippon Ham Fighters went 2 for 3 with a double, a homer, and two walks in the game. Japan eventually broke it open with a five-run sixth inning.
Shohei Ohtani went 2 for 3 with a double and at one point was intentionally walked to load the bases for Munetaka Murakami, . Murakami has struggled early in the WBC, going 0 for 7 with four strikeouts. Nootbaar, Kondoh, Ohtani, and Yoshida went a combined 9 for 13 with 10 RBI on Friday.
Darvish surrendered three runs (two earned) in three innings. Four relievers held Korea to one run in the final six innings. Japan is now 2-0 in the WBC. Korea is 0-2 and at risk of being eliminated in the first round after being.
Chinese Taipei rallies late to beat Italy
The atmosphere at Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium was befitting of Mad Max more than a March baseball game. The home crowd — and the home team — was positively pumped for Friday’s affair. To wit:
Italy and Chinese Taipei traded runs in the first five innings — there were four lead changes in those innings — and Italy took a 7-5 lead into the sixth inning. Brewers outfield prospect Sal Frelick had a two-run double, Padres catcher Brett Sullivan went 3 for 3, and Royals infielder Nicky Lopez went 2 for 3 and drove in three runs.
Red Sox utility man Yu Chang tied the game with a two-run homer that sent the crown into a frenzy. Chinese Taipei took the lead in the seventh, then former Guardians minor leaguer and reigning Chinese Professional Baseball League home run king Kungkuan Giljegiljaw provided insurance runs with a three-run eighth inning blast. He took two curtain calls after that. Listen to this crowd:
Three Italy relievers, including former MLB pitcher Joe Biagini and Royals righty Stephen Woods Jr., each surrendered three runs to blow an early lead. Italy and Chinese Taipei are both 1-1 in the WBC.