11 p.m. ET: Updated with official MLB quote:
Team China entered the 2013 World Baseball Classic with a simple goal: don’t finish last.
It wasn’t about embarrassment. China knew that beating Taiwan in the 2009 World Baseball Classic ensured them a spot in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. With no currently active pro league in the country, a spot in the 2017 World Baseball Classic that would come with a third-place finish would do much to ensure that baseball in China would continue to grow over the next four years.
China achieved their goal. It took its lumps against Japan and Cuba in its first two WBC games to save its best pitchers to face Brazil. It worked as China beat Brazil 5-2. With relegation avoided, the Chinese players had tears streaming from their eyes as they ran onto the field. Part of the celebration Italy gave for its 2-0 start was the knowledge that it ensured Italy would be part of the 2017 WBC.
“Regardless of tomorrow that’s a huge win for Baseball Canada,” Canadian catcher Chris Robinson said as he explained that it meant Canada would avoid the shame of going through the qualifier like it did to get back into the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
They all may have celebrated a little too early. Even though players and coaches from multiple teams believe that the same rules that determined automatic qualifying for the 2013 tournament will apply to 2017, an MLB spokesman said on Saturday night that it wasn’t the case. According to MLB the methods to determine who qualifies for the 2017 World Baseball Classic have not yet been determined so these games have no bearing on WBC qualification. That does not mean that they cannot be used as criteria retroactively.
“We have made adjustments to the WBC after each of the first two tournaments were completed. This is the first tournament where we had qualifiers and there may be changes made after evaluation,” MLB spokesman Pat Courtney said. “It has yet to be determined and will be as we continue to make this tournament better.”
Cynically, one cannot help but note that the U.S. has not yet ensured that they will not be relegated under the old qualifying rules. One also can’t help but note that the headline on the China-Brazil game story at MLB.com says “Chang Helps China Stun Brazil: Earns ’17 Berth.”