World Baseball Classic
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'09 Classic features new venues, format
L.A. hosts finals; double-elimination replaces round robin
The World Baseball Classic, replete with new venues, new rules for teams to emerge from the opening two rounds and a gala final game at Dodger Stadium, will be opening in a nation or commonwealth near you, beginning next March 5. All 39 games will be televised this year by ESPN and the new MLB Network -- 16 by the fledgling network, which will be born on Jan. 1 and debut to a potential audience of more than 50 million basic cable subscribers. And the general sale of tickets at each of the seven ballparks hosting games will begin at MLB.com on Nov. 17. Strips of tickets for all games at each particular venue must be purchased. First-round games are slated for Tokyo Dome from March 5-8, Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico, from March 7-11, and Toronto's Rogers Centre and Foro Sol Stadium in Mexico City from March 8-12. The second round was awarded to San Diego's PETCO Park and Dolphin Stadium in Miami, with the games being played in those two venues on March 14-19. And Dodger Stadium will host the semifinals and finals on March 21 and 23. PETCO was home to the semis and finals in 2006. "The 2009 World Baseball Classic will further demonstrate the remarkable global growth of our game," Commissioner Bud Selig said. "There has been incredible demand to host the games of the second World Baseball Classic, and we are pleased to have four international destinations as our first-round venues. We are excited about the 2009 World Baseball Classic and look forward to next March." The 16-team field is the same as '06, though an expansion of the competition to 24 countries and territories with qualifying rounds as a preface to reach the main competition is under consideration for 2013. Next year's brackets are as follows: Pool A -- China, Chinese Taipei, Japan and Korea in Tokyo. Pool B -- Australia, Cuba, Mexico and South Africa in Mexico City. Pool C -- Canada, Italy, the U.S. and Venezuela in Toronto. Pool D -- Dominican Republic, The Netherlands, Panama and Puerto Rico in Puerto Rico. The two winners from Pools A and B will go to San Diego, and the pair of survivors from Pools C and D will go to Miami. Unlike 2006, when Japan defeated Cuba to win the inaugural Classic championship at PETCO Park, teams will cross over to create new matchups at Los Angeles in each semifinal bracket. Thus, one winner from San Diego will play a winner from Miami with the others doing the same in the semis, which will be single elimination games. The winners go to the finals; the losers go home. Even getting out of each of the first two rounds will have different rules for qualification. In '06, a round-robin style was used, in which the four teams each played three games with a complicated rule of runs scored and runs allowed being used as tiebreakers. Not this time. The first two rounds will use a double-elimination format, and there will be six games in each bracket. The first team to lose twice is out. The second team to go will be 1-2, meaning that the two winners will be determined by Game 5 of each early-round bracket. The final game will be used to determine ranking only for the next round. Thus, one loser will play two games, the other loser will play three games, one winner will play three games and the other winner will play four times. It'll be accomplished like this: The losers of Games 1 and 2 (0-1) will meet in Game 3. The winners of Games 1 and 2 (1-0) meet in Game 4. The loser of Game 3 (0-2) goes home. The winner of Game 4 (2-0) moves on to the Game 6 ranking contest and ultimately the next round. The winner of Game 3 (1-1) meets the loser of Game 4 (1-1) in Game 5. The loser of Game 5 (1-2) is eliminated, and the winner of Game 5 (2-1) plays the winner of Game 4 (2-0) in Game 6 and also ultimately heads to the next round. If that sounds complicated, it isn't, and will seem simple when the competition begins, particularly in comparison to what happened to Team USA in the second round the last time. Three teams finished 1-2 in Pool 1 in 2006 at Angel Stadium: the U.S., Mexico and Japan. But the Japanese moved on, because they won the three-way tiebreaker by allowing five runs in one more inning than the five runs the U.S. allowed in head-to-head competition involving the three tied teams. So, no more of that. But a lot more of this: The tournament is the only one internationally that allows players on the rosters of all 30 Major League teams to participate, representing their various nationalities. In '06, 486 players competed, including 235 from big league organizations. Taking advantage of the rules, Japan won its final two games, defeating Korea and much-heralded Cuba in front of sellout crowds in the 45,000-seat home of the Padres. Cuba, the perennial world baseball power on the international scene, beat the Dominican Republic to move on to the finals. Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, who now toils for the Red Sox, was named the tournament Most Valuable Player. Which players will dominate and what team will emerge as victor is again open to discussion and question.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.