3/4/2013 12:20 P.M. ET
Brazil, China aim to leave Classic on winning note
By Jason Coskrey / Special to MLB.com
FUKUOKA, Japan -- Brazil has played the role of the scrappy underdog to perfection during the 2013 World Baseball Classic, and has turned more than a few heads in the process.
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The Brazilians took a lead into the eighth inning against Japan before eventually falling, 5-3, on the opening night of the Classic, and gave Cuba all it could handle in a 5-2 loss the next day.
Brazil will wrap up its first experience in the Classic by taking on a new role: that of the favorite.
Manager Barry Larkin and his squad hope to end the tournament on a high note by defeating China on Tuesday at 4 p.m. local time (3 a.m. ET) in a game that can be watched live on MLB Network and ESPN Deportes. In the final game of the Classic for both teams, the winner will earn a spot in the next Classic, while the loser will be forced to qualify for the tournament.
"We try to win every ballgame we play," Larkin said Sunday. "That will be the next opponent we play. So we'll prepare, and do whatever we have to do to try and win that game."
Brazil was in action during the first two days of the Classic and had Monday off. China, meanwhile, faced Cuba on Monday and lost, 12-0, in a game that was called in the seventh due to the mercy rule.
China was overwhelmed by the Cuban hitters in the rout, allowing 15 hits, including six extra-base hits, while also committing a pair of errors.
Baseball is still developing in both Brazil and China, and participating in the game's premier international competition helps raise the sport's profile in both nations.
In many ways, just being in the Classic is a victory for Brazil and China, and any positives the players can take back to their respective countries can be used to spur the growth of the game at the grassroots level.
That can already be seen in China.
While the Chinese are still a long way from competing against Cuba, Japan and the world's other baseball powers, the level of the national team has grown by leaps and bounds from where it was during the 2006 Classic.
"I'll be honest with you, the first time we were together as a team, we had trouble playing catch," said John McLaren, who was appointed manager of the team in 2012. "We just started tightening things up on a daily basis.
"Lot of credit goes to Bruce Hurst and Wally Joyner, who's here as hitting coach for a year, and Art Howe. My two Chinese coaches do a great job. I appreciate their efforts.
"It's a thrill for me to be a part of this. Just to help the Chinese federation get better. It's very gratifying, because when you've been in the game as long as I have, you try to give back. I'm proud of these kids, we play hard every night, and we're looking forward to having Brazil tomorrow."
Larkin hopes to spur the same type of growth in Brazil.
"It's a big deal," Larkin said of his team's participation before Brazil faced Japan. "With any success this team has, it will become an even bigger deal in the country."
Jason Coskrey is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.