Adrian Gonzalez savored every moment of his break from Dodgers Spring Training, from the extravagant opening-night celebration to the lively Mexicali crowds that showered him and Team Mexico with adoration just two hours from where he grew up in Tijuana.
But the five-time All-Star never wavered from the mission.
"We're having fun and enjoying every moment," Gonzalez said, "but not losing sight of the fact that we're here to win games and represent Mexico the way it needs to be represented."
Mexico on Sunday emphatically earned its way to its fourth World Baseball Classic next spring, beating Nicaragua by the mercy rule for the second time in three nights, 12-1, in the final game of a four-team qualifier at Estadio B-Air. Mexico won the modified double-elimination tournament by a combined score of 25-2 in its three games, simply taking care of business.
Gonzalez was 2-for-3 with an intentional walk in the finale, finishing the three games 2-for-6 with six walks (two intentional) and four runs. That included a run scored during Mexico's six-run second inning on Sunday, and the fact that Gonzalez's brother Edgar, the Mexico manager, left the first baseman in the game after reaching 10 runs in the fifth inning said all you needed to know about the singular focus this team had the past several days.
Oliver Perez, taking a break from Nationals camp, came in to record the final out as "Gracias por visitar Mexicali" fittingly were the words shown on the backstop. The players and coaches then headed out to the mound with a Mexican flag to pose for pictures.
Mexico was 3-3 in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, 2-4 in '09 and 1-2 in '13. It was eliminated in the second round each of the first two Classics, but the last time it failed to make it out of the first round, losing shockingly to Italy, beating the United States and then getting eliminated by Canada. Because of that failure to make the second round, Mexico had to play in this qualifier.
"It is very nice for Mexico. That's what we came for and we got it," manager Edgar Gonzalez said. "It was a great reward for everyone who worked on this since the formation of the roster. ... it all works out with joy for everyone."
Nicaragua finished 2-2 in the qualifier. It had to erase deficits and win in extra innings against Germany and the Czech Republic, and then was summarily dismissed twice via the early-termination rule by the host. Nicaragua has never been in the field for a World Baseball Classic.
There were 27 MLB-affiliated players on these rosters, 16 for Mexico and 11 for Nicaragua. That included Nicaragua shortstop Alex Blandino, the Reds prospect who made the jump to Double-A last season, but he remained unavailable due to a right thigh injury not considered serious. Blandino had the walk-off hit in Nicaragua's first game. To make matters worse, his replacement shortstop, Omar Obregon, left in that long bottom of the second after taking a ground ball off the left kneecap.
Nicaragua was the only team that had to play on four consecutive days, and eventually the wear and tear caught up with it. The Nicaraguans were already down four pitchers because of pitch-limit rules, so it was the worst possible situation when they got just 1 2/3 innings from their starting pitcher, Fidencio Flores.
He was replaced with the bases loaded in the second inning and Mexico already ahead, 3-0. It said a lot about Marvin Benard's limited options that the replacement was left-hander Carlos Teller, who had been so wild in the 11-0 loss to Nicaragua on Friday. Teller immediately gave up a bases-clearing double to Agustin Murillo, breaking the game open at 6-0.
All six Mexico runs in the second inning were unearned, which was a near duplication of how it blew open the Friday victory over Nicaragua.
Hector Daniel Rodriguez, who started for Mexico, will return as well to the Orioles' Spring Training camp, as the club's left-handed prospect -- currently assigned to the Double-A Bowie Baysox -- met a club-imposed pitch limit and was removed after 53 pitches. That was during the third inning, when Mexico had given him a 6-0 lead. Rodriguez threw 2 2/3 innings, giving up a pair of hits, striking out three and walking two.
Now that Mexico has qualified for another Classic, it remains to be seen whether it can return to the second round, or maybe beyond that. It barely survived a 2-1 opening victory against an upstart Czech Republic team on Thursday, and the two blowouts of Nicaragua were both cases of Nicaragua completely self-destructing in every possible way. All of those six runs scored in the second inning of the finale were unearned, as walks and errors abounded.
Either way, all that matters is this: Mexico is going back to the World Baseball Classic.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Daniel Arreola contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.