Randy Arozarena Propels Mexico Past Canada, Into World Baseball Classic Quarterfinals

Image credit: Randy Arozarena (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

PHOENIX Randy Arozarena is Cuban. He was born in Arroyos de Mantua along the island’s Northwest coast, broke onto the baseball scene as a member of Cuba’s 18-and-under national team and made his professional debut playing for Pinar Del Rio in Serie Nacional, Cuba’s major league.

But Mexico is Arozarena’s home. It’s where he landed after fleeing Cuba on a small boat in 2015. It’s where he established residency and had his daughter. It’s where he honed his game, got signed by the Cardinals and began his trajectory to the major leagues. In 2022, he became a Mexican citizen, permanently binding his new home with his identity.

Arozarena jumped at the opportunity to represent Mexico in the World Baseball Classic. The Rays outfielder voiced his desire to do so as far back as the 2020 postseason, when he first emerged as one of baseball’s best big-game performers. Three years later, wearing Mexico across his chest, the burgeoning 28-year-old star took over a must-win game and powered his adopted nation to the WBC quarterfinals.

Arozarena hit two doubles and drove in five runs, and Mexico beat Canada, 10-3, to win Pool C and advance to the second round for the first time since 2009. Mexico will face the Dominican Republic-Puerto Rico winner in the quarterfinals in Miami.

“It feels beautiful,” Arozarena said through an interpreter. “I’m very grateful because they gave me the opportunity and they trusted me to help them. And thank God with the work that I’ve been doing, today I’ve been able to help them and help them win games.”

Arozarena played a starring role in every moment that propelled Mexico to victory. He got hit by a pitch to lead off the game and came around to score on Rowdy Tellez’s two-run single that gave Mexico an early 2-0 lead. After Canada cut the deficit in half in the bottom of the first inning, Arozarena laced a two-out, RBI double into the right-center gap in the top of the second to re-extend Mexico’s lead to 3-1.

In the sixth inning, with Mexico clinging to a 3-2 lead after missing repeated chances to blow the game open, Arozarena stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and delivered the decisive blow. After he narrowly missed a grand slam when his long fly to left field curved foul, Arozarena drove the next pitch down the left-field line for a bases-clearing double, sending his Mexican teammates streaming out of the dugout and taking the wind out of Canada’s sails.

As Arozarena stood on second base, his arms folded as he basked in the afterglow of his pivotal hit, a thunderous chant of “Ran-DY”, “Ran-DY” began to rain down from the thousands of Mexican fans in the Chase Field stands.

Arozarena took a minute to soak it in. It was, more than at any other time, the moment that signified just how much the people of his adopted country had come to fully love and embrace him.

“I felt very happy,” Arozarena said. “The fans make me happy every time they clap for me, every time they chant my name. Everything I do, I try to do it at 100% in the field (so) that they feel represented by me. It makes me play 100% of my capacity.”

Mexico manager Benji Gil, who was born in Tijuana and coached in the Mexican League, has marveled as he’s seen the love affair up close. As a native Mexican, he understands and appreciates more than most just how strongly Arozarena has come to embody the traits most valued by his adopted nation.

“The country has embraced him and he’s shown the fan base nothing but love from the first day,” Gil said. “It wasn’t like it happened once he got going. It was immediate. It was from the days when we were playing exhibition games. I mean, they were all-in on him because of the way he plays and because of the character he has and the energy he brings to the to the team.”

Arozarena came to the plate with the bases loaded again in the seventh inning. This time, Canada chose not to pitch to him. Righthander Indigo Diaz threw three pitches out of the zone before his 91 mph fastball sailed and hit Arozarena in the shoulder, giving Arozarena his second hit-by-pitch of the day and another RBI.

Arozarena wasn’t done providing joy. During a pitching change in the eighth, he began signing autographs for fans in left field.

“They keep asking me about it, but I just tell them it’s Randy,” Tellez said. “He’s got his boots on. He’s just Randy Arozarena.”

Alex Verdugo added a sacrifice fly in the seventh and Tellez led off the eighth with a homer to finish the scoring for Mexico. Righthander Jake Sanchez closed it out with a scoreless ninth, punctuating the victory with a strikeout of pinch-hitter Dasan Brown to end the game.

Tellez finished 2-for-3 with a homer and three RBIs and Joey Meneses went 2-for-5 for Mexico. Astros righthander Jose Urquidy pitched four innings with six hits and two ruins allowed, one walk and five strikeouts to earn the win.

Twins prospect Edouard Julien and Guardians prospect Bo Naylor both homered for Canada, which could have advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time with a win but now must await the result of the pool play finale between Team USA and Colombia. Canada’s pitchers combined for 10 walks, three hit batters, a balk and a wild pitch, short-circuiting their hopes of advancing.

“(It’s) youth probably more than anything,” Canada manager Ernie Whitt said. “This is a big stage. A lot of these guys are pitching in A-ball, maybe Double-A. It’s a big stage for them.

Arozarena finished pool play batting .500 with five doubles, a home run, nine RBIs and six runs scored. He almost assuredly will be named MVP of Pool C following the conclusion of the finale between Team USA and Colombia.

It was, unquestionably, one of the best performances in Mexico’s baseball history. In the process, Arozarena cemented his place in the rich baseball lore of his adopted nation.

“Hopefully what we’ll be saying in a matter of six, seven days,” Gil said, “is he’s one of the main people of the most historic team in the history of Mexican baseball.”

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