Despite the fact that there have only been four World Baseball Classic tournaments held heading into the 2023 WBC, that’s more than enough to pick out the best World Baseball Classic moments of all time.
From the first instalment in 2006, the WBC has been an instant hit, producing great games, unforgettable moments, and national heroes. Just thinking about the tournament made us want to take a trip down memory lane and revisit the top WBC moments in the brief history of the tournament.
Best World Baseball Classic moments
To our surprise, there were a lot more memorable WBC moments than we thought. That’s what happens when you bring the best players in the world together and give them the pride of representing their country.
As we prepare for the 2023 WBC, let’s remember the 10 best World Baseball Classic moments thus far.
10. Daisuke Matsuzaka’s Second MVP (2009)
Winning MVP honors at the inaugural WBC in 2006 was one thing, but Daisuke Matsuzaka continued his dominance three years later, winning MVP again while leading Japan to a second straight WBC title.
Matsuzaka won three games during the 2009 WBC, not including his performance of 4.2 innings against the USA in the semifinals to help eliminate the hosts and advance to the finals.
9. Dominican Republic stays Perfect (2013)
Perfection is not a word that’s often associated with baseball. However, perfect does describe the Dominican Republic in 2013. They beat Puerto Rico 3-0 in the finals to cap off the tournament with a perfect 8-0 record.
The Dominicans beat Puerto Rico three times in 2013, defeating a team that included some of the greatest Puerto Rican baseball players of all time. On top of that, the Dominicans had wins over the U.S., Italy, Venezuela, Spain, and the Netherlands. In total, they scored 36 runs and conceded just 14 in those eight games, completely dominating the rest of the world.
8. Alfredo Despaigne’s Grand Slam (2017)
Despite never playing in the big leagues, Alfredo Despaigne had a lot of great moments for the Cuban national team. The best came in a game against Australia during the 2017 WBC.
With Cuba trailing 1-0 in the fifth inning, Despaigne dispatched a grand slam at the Tokyo Dome to put the Cubans ahead 4-1. Cubs won the game 4-3 to advance to the next round, and that one swing by Despaigne was the difference.
7. Nelson Cruz crushes U.S. (2017)
During the first round of group play during the 2017 WBC, the U.S. held a 5-3 lead against the Dominican Republic in the bottom of the eighth. Both teams eventually advanced but first place in the group was on the line in that game. Facing Andrew Miller with two runners on base, Nelson Cruz smoked a ball down the left-field line that just barely stayed fair.
The homer put the Dominicans up 6-5, causing the entire dugout to meet Cruz at home plate despite there being an inning left. The Dominicans won the game 7-5 and won the group, although as we’ll see, the Americans ultimately got the better of them later in the tournament.
6. Jose Bautista guns down a runner (2017)
Jose Bautista was always known more for his bat than his defensive prowess. But he showed off his arm in the ninth inning of a tight game against Colombia during group play in 2017. The Colombians were on the verge of a massive upset with a runner on third base and one out with the game tied 3-3 in the bottom of the ninth. But on a sharp line drive to left field, Bautista made the catch and then put just enough mustard on the ball to throw out Oscar Mercado at the plate.
Catcher Welington Castillo also deserves credit for making the tag on Mercado. The Colombians were irate at the call, but the umpire surely got the call right. The play forced extra innings with the Dominican Republic ultimately winning 10-3 in 11 frames.
5. David Wright becomes Captain America (2009 & 2013)
For Americans, there has been no bigger WBC hero than David Wright. He delivered for Team USA in multiple tournaments to earn himself the nickname of Captain America. In 2009, Wright had a walk-off hit against Puerto Rico to send the US to the semifinals in one of the best World Baseball Classic moments.
Four years later, Wright haunted Puerto Rico with a five-RBI game, and that was after hitting the second grand slam in WBC history by an American against Italy earlier in the tournament. Unfortunately, when an injury sidelined Wright, the Americans lost their hero and were eliminated following a 4-3 loss to Puerto Rico.
4. Javier Baez no-look tag (2017)
It’s not often that a caught-stealing play would be so memorable. However, Javier Baez is just that good at tagging runners.
During the 2017 WBC, Nelson Cruz was gunned down at second base trying to steal on Yadier Molina. As Baez caught the ball and made the tag, he wasn’t even looking at Cruz because he was too busy pointing at Molina to acknowledge the great throw.
Baez didn’t even need to catch the ball and slap on the tag to know that Cruz had no chance against Molina’s arm. It was truly an amazing sight to see and a great example of why both Baez and Molina are among the best Dominican baseball players of all time.
3. Mexico-Canada fight (2013)
Tensions are always high when players are representing their country. That was evident during the 2013 WBC when Mexico and Canada squared off. The Canadians led 9-3 in the top of the ninth, and so the Mexicans didn’t appreciate Chris Robinson bunting for a hit. While that may have broken an unwritten rule, run-differential can matter in the WBC standings.
Nevertheless, Mexico pitcher Arnold Leon threw two pitchers inside to the next batter Rene Tosoni, prompting a warning to be issued to both teams. But that didn’t stop Leon from hitting Tosoni on the third pitch.
That emptied both dugouts and led to punches being thrown and several ejections on both sides. The fight might not be one of the best World Baseball Classic moments ever in the traditional sense, but it’s surely memorable and a sign of what the tournament means to the players.
2. Adam Jones catch (2017)
In terms of defensive plays, Jones set the bar high during the 2017 WBC. With the U.S. leading the Dominican Republic 4-2 in the seventh inning, Manny Machado hit what looked like a home run. The way it left the bat and the way Machado reacted, it looked like it was gone.
In Machado’s defense, the ball did clear the wall.
However, Adam Jones tracked the ball to the wall and then practically leaped into the crowd to catch it. Keep in mind that at the time Jones and Machado were teammates with the Orioles.
As he turned back to the dugout, Machado lifted his helmet toward Jones to acknowledge the great catch. The catch helped the Americans to keep their lead and win that game 6-3, sending them to the semifinals over the Dominicans in addition to being one of the top WBC moments in the history of the tournament.
1. Ichiro’s Championship-winning hit (2009)
It was none other than Japanese legend Ichiro who helped to lift his country to the WBC title in 2009. The Japanese team met South Korea in the final at Dodger Stadium in front of 54,846 fans. Japan had knocked Korea out of the 2006 WBC, only for the Koreans to topple Japan in the semifinals of the 2008 Olympics, so this meeting was less than a year after the Olympic matchup.
Japan was one out away from claiming the WBC title in the bottom of the ninth when South Korea tied the game 3-3 to force extra innings. But with two outs, two runners on base, and two strikes against him, Ichiro slashed a single to center field to bring both runners home and give Japan a 5-3 lead. That became the difference in the game, as Yu Darvish got three outs in the bottom of the ninth to secure the title for Japan.