Mexicans exit with heads held high
Sandoval and Co. can savor experience despite falling short
By Jesse Sanchez / MLB.com
Manager Vinny Castilla (middle) and Team Mexico watch Cuba celebrate Monday's win. (Getty Images)
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SAN DIEGO -- On one shoulder, Mexico infielder Freddy Sandoval carried his bat bag. On the other shoulder hung a duffle bag with his clothes and in his right hand, he carried his gloves.
It's long past midnight near the home clubhouse at PETCO Park and very few people are still hanging around the park. Sandoval is one of them. The Angels prospect is ready to return to Tempe, Ariz., in a few hours to rejoin his teammates at Spring Training, and he's not in the type of bad mood that usually comes with losing or elimination. Because in addition to his luggage, Sandoval is also carrying a lifetime of memories from the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
Yes, Mexico was eliminated from the tournament after Monday night's 7-4 loss to Cuba. Yes, the team didn't live up to the country's expectations. Yes, Sandoval is still walking with pride.
Mexico won't play in another World Baseball Classic game until 2013, and Sandoval can't wait to get another shot at the title.
"First of all, this was a very beautiful experience," he said. "I really appreciate all of the fans that came out to support us on this ride and I'm sorry we were not able to win everything. My head is still up. My heart is satisfied. Of course, we are sad but you have to enjoy this experience."
Mexico finished the tournament with a 2-4 record. The country was defeated by Korea, 8-2, in the first game of Pool 1 play on Sunday to set up Monday's elimination game.
"I don't think we played the best baseball we could," Sandoval said. "Unfortunately, we weren't able to take advantage of all of the opportunities. Cuba did, and that's why they won. You give them credit for being a good team but give us credit, too. We tried to win every game."
Sandoval went 1-for-6 in San Diego. He also drove in a run. Accompanying Sandoval to the team bus was Royals closer Joakim Soria. On a personal level, Soria didn't shine in San Diego. He pitched only one inning, a scoreless frame of mopup duty against Korea on Sunday.
The stats do not matter to Soria.
Like Sandoval, Soria will be in Arizona soon. The Royals closer says the experience with Team Mexico made him a better player, and he's not unhappy with his choice to play for his country.
"I think everybody expected more, but what are you going to do?" Soria said. "You keep going forward and you forget about what happened. ... We didn't respond when we had to, but we are human. That's baseball. Just being here was a good time. These players have been around a long time and they have a lot of experience."
On Monday, Mexico and Cuba were tied at 2 in the fifth inning, but a three-run double by Cuban outfielder Frederich Cepeda broke the tie and gave Cuba a lead it would not lose. Cuban right fielder Yoennis Cespedes extended the lead to five runs, 7-2, with a triple that scored two runs in the top of the seventh inning but Mexico answered with home runs by third baseman Jorge Cantu and Christian Presichi for Mexico's third and fourth runs of the game.
The home runs didn't lead to victory. It did give the club hope.
"I think we can compete against Cuba, Korea and Australia, but this was a short tournament," Mexico's Agustin Murrillo said. "It's up to us to get those thoughts in our head and to do it. They were not better than us. We just lost the games."
When Soria and Sandoval finally left the stadium, the pair didn't leave disappointed. Maybe it's because Soria has the answer to Mexico's woes.
"Maybe we need to get ready a little sooner as a team," he said. "We had the effort. We worked hard. We will keep representing Mexico."