Long ball takes Classic by storm
Twenty home runs spread across five games, two hemispheres
Apparently, the world digs the long ball.
Sunday's World Baseball Classic menu brought the big crowds, the national pride and the all-out emotion, but it also brought round-trippers in never-before-seen numbers, a homer-happy hit parade in four different countries across two continents.
The rundown: Five games, 20 homers, one big upset, and plenty of heads shaking after an unexpected barrage of bleacher blasts.
Six of the homers came from the Cuban team alone in its 8-1 dismantling of South Africa in Pool B play in Mexico City.
Frederich Cepeda hit homers in his first two at-bats and Hector Olivera, Alfredo Despaigne, Yulieski Gourriel and Yoennis Cespedes also went deep for the Cubans, who set a Classic record with the six homers in a game, breaking the previous mark of four set by the Dominican Republic on March 7, 2006, against Venezuela.
"Psychologically, it's very important, especially with the outcome we had," Cepeda said of the homers. "To be able to stay on top, start on top, because it shows that the Cuban team is doing excellent."
Cuba wasn't the only country putting on a Sunday power show, though.
In the biggest upset of the day, Australia pulled out its walloping sticks, routing the heavily favored -- and host -- Mexican team by a score of 17-7 and hitting four balls out in the process. Meanwhile, Mexico added a couple of homers of its own to make it 12 for the day at Foro Sol Stadium.
For the Aussies, unsigned Major League free agent Chris Snelling hit a pair of long balls and possibly earned himself a contract in one night. He was joined in the big-fly bash by countrymates Luke Hughes and Ben Risinger. Mexico's homers were hit by Jorge Vazquez and Alfredo Amezaga.
According to Australian manager Jon Deeble, the 22 hits pounded out by his team in the game were more important and reflective of a patient general approach than the occasional lucky one that clears the wall.
"We didn't go out there to hit home runs," Deeble said. "That wasn't our game plan. It was to go out there and have quality at-bats. I thought our batters were very patient ... and we were lucky enough to get some pitches out in the zone, and our guys drove them. Twenty-two hits was a pretty good effort."
And so were the 16 rapped out by the United States, three of which were crucial homers in a runaway 15-6 shellacking of championship contender Venezuela.
For the second straight game, both Team USA wins, Kevin Youkilis and Adam Dunn each homered, and Ryan Braun chipped in with a pinch-hit blast late in the game. Venezuela also got a homer, from Carlos Guillen.
The Dominican Republic team made the most of its three home runs -- two by Miguel Olivo and one by Nelson Cruz to stave off elimination by knocking Panama out of the tournament in a 9-0 win. That had to have helped team morale after the Dominicans' stunning 3-2 defeat to the unheralded Netherlands team on Saturday.
"The Dominican fans have to be patient," Olivo said after Sunday's game. "We can play ball here. Anybody can win a game for the team. Today, it was me and [Nelson] Cruz. But it could have been [David] Ortiz or [Miguel] Tejada."
"It was good even though our backs were against the wall," Dominican manager Felipe Alou added. "It is still against the wall, but this victory was a big one for us. It shows that the team can hit and can hit home runs."
Maybe the biggest surprise of the day was the fact that the Korean team eliminated China with a 14-0 mercy-rule win, and only had one tater -- a two-run shot by Bum Ho Lee.
Korea's winning pitcher Sunday, Suk-Min Yoon, said what was probably on every victorious hurler's mind as he watched his portion of the 20 homers sail out of the four World Baseball Classic first-round stadiums.
"In this game, we were able to score runs," Yoon said. "So that relieved the pressure."
Doug Miller is reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.