Venezuela trailed Italy 2-1 going into the top of the 9th inning of Monday night’s World Baseball Classic tiebreaker game. Miguel Cabrera, as he often does, led off the inning with a home run. Victor Martinez walked and was lifted for a pinch-runner, setting the table for Rougned Odor to be a hero.
The Texas Rangers second baseman blasted a deep drive to left-center field. He flipped his bat to celebrate and strutted up the first-base line, which would have been cool if his fly ball had left the ballpark. It didn’t, instead it turned into a long RBI single.
Odor would eventually score the insurance run he represented thanks to a flawless one-out safety squeeze by Alcides Escobar. Francisco Rodriguez secured the save in the bottom of half of the inning, but not before surrendering a solo homer to make the score 4-3.
Odor’s showboating almost cost his country dearly, and it didn’t go unnoticed. Houston Astros Alex Bregman, a member of the United States team, took issue with it.
Bregman later deleted his rather keen observation — and he shouldn’t have. Odor’s bat-flip and lack of hustle hurt his team and made it harder for them to win the game. Bregman’s language doesn’t precisely point this out, but what happened on Monday night wasn’t some breach of the unwritten rules. It was a clear and obvious example of a selfish play. It is not a great insult nor is it unfair to say so. Mental mistakes happen in baseball, and this was a mental mistake. An entirely self-inflicted one.
Luckily for Odor, his teammates picked him up, and Venezuela is moving on in the tournament. It will be interesting to see the reaction to Odor’s posing and Bregman’s critique. It seems pretty cut-and-dry, but then again, I have a healthy respect for the unwritten rules and hustle. Perhaps that mindset puts me in the minority.
Bat flips aren’t a black and white issue. There are shades of gray. There is a time and a place for them, and long singles in elimination games aren’t the preferred venue.