With the most talented World Baseball Classic roster it has ever had, Venezuela believes this is its best chance to bring its first Classic title back home.
By MLB – Juan Toribio
Mar 14, 2023
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So far, so good for the star-studded Venezuelan team, which capped off an unbeaten run in Pool D play with a 5-1 win over Israel on Wednesday at loanDepot park. Venezuela will now clash with Team USA — the runner-up of Pool C — in the quarterfinals on Saturday in Miami (7 p.m. ET, FOX).
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“This is a dream,” said Venezuela third baseman Eduardo Escobar “The most important thing, the key secret here, is that the egos were removed. No matter the position you play, the most important thing is that we are representing our country and we have one name on our chest, and that’s Venezuela.”
Venezuela opened Pool D with an impressive 5-1 win over the Dominican Republic on Saturday and followed that up with another stellar performance on Sunday to beat Puerto Rico. Over the last two games, they took care of business against overmatched Nicaragua and Israel.
The road gets tougher for Venezuela. But with strong starting pitching and a very deep lineup, this team is looking like a tough out in this tournament. And if its clubhouse vibe is any indication, Venezuela is as loose as can be: The club had a drum in its dugout for Wednesday’s game and celebrated its outbursts at the plate by dancing.
As it has done all tournament, Venezuela’s offense came out hot and jumped on top early against Israel. Ronald Acuña Jr., who had struggled to start the tournament and hit fifth on Wednesday, got back on track with an RBI single in the first inning off right-hander Robert Stock to give Venezuela a 1-0 lead.
“I told him, use your strengths,” Venezuela manager Omar López said of Acuña. “Of course I want him to double, to triple, to steal bases, et cetera. But I told him, ‘Try to get the positive things out of the negatives.’ He drove in a run, he stole a base, made a great play in center and that’s what I wanted to see.”
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Two batters later, Eugenio Suárez capped off a three-run first with a two-run single. In the fourth, Escobar tacked on with a solo homer to straightaway center field. Suárez did more damage in the sixth, smacking his first homer of the tournament, a no-doubter to left-center field.
“We all prepared ourselves the best possible way to come and compete in this World Baseball Classic differently from the previous tournaments,” Suárez said. “This has been more special. We are doing our best, and we agreed on that — not only for ourselves, but our families and our country.”
That was plenty of run support for left-hander Jesús Luzardo, who struck out five over four scoreless innings. Luzardo, who was born in Peru but raised by Venezuelan parents, put the finishing touches on a very impressive performance by Venezuela’s starting pitching in Pool D.
“It was very special, very important, especially to pitch in front of my family,” Luzardo said. “My grandfather always told me, ‘You’re going to make it and represent Venezuela.’ To me, it was something very special. He’s with me, I know that. And when I wear Venezuela on my chest, it’s very important to me.”
Led by Martín Pérez, Pablo López and Luzardo, Venezuela starters allowed three runs over 14 innings.
“We have one of the best pitching rotations, like this beast on my left, [Luzardo],” Escobar said. “If you’re not well prepared for a short tournament like this, you won’t be successful. But having a catcher such as Salvador Perez is an advantage that we have that, respectfully, [other teams] don’t have.”
Israel saw its second WBC appearance end with a 1-3 record. It did, however, earn an automatic spot in the ‘26 Classic by finishing in fourth place in Pool D.
Read More: MLB – Venezuela eyes perfect Pool D showing vs. Israel (12 p.m. ET, FS2)