A Classic beginning with more to come

A Classic beginning with more to come

So this is what October looks like in March.

Huge upsets. Gut-wrenching finishes. Crowds on their feet. Pitchers hugging catchers. Dancing on the field.

Classic Saturday -- a day in which 12 national teams in three international cities played six electric games -- lived up to its billing and then some, with the second edition of the World Baseball Classic putting on a show of surprising intensity and sharp play for what's traditionally been an early date for such things in baseball.

In short, it had it all.

There was a breakthrough: Team China started everybody off with a first -- its first win in Classic play after a lopsidedly losing debut in 2006.

There was an absolute stunner: The Netherlands took a lead and held on to beat the Dominican Republic, 3-2, which might not qualify as the Miracle Mets but certainly ranks as one of the biggest upsets ever seen in international play.

There was a rivalry renewed: The U.S. and Canada thrilled a packed house at Toronto's Rogers Centre with a nail-biting battle that ended with Team USA holding on for a victory that avenged a crucial 2006 loss.

That's only the half of it, and this is only the beginning.

A Classic Sunday is next, followed by day after day of international intrigue leading toward the finals at Dodger Stadium on March 23. And all of it is on MLB.TV, every one of the 39 games, including today's.

All four pools will be in play for the first time today, with five games being played at the venues in Japan, Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico. The Dominican team, one of the tournament favorites, actually will be facing elimination in its meeting with Panama, the U.S. will have another tough foe in Venezuela, and play will open in Mexico City with a doubleheader.

And it'll feel a little bit like October all day.

All you needed to see to know that October feeling isn't a March mirage was J.J. Putz hugging the stuffing out of Brian McCann after closing out the Canadians, 6-5, finally bringing a hush to a Rogers Centre crowd that had been on its feet for much of the previous three innings.

"It was unbelievable," said the U.S. reliever, previously with the Mariners and now with the Mets. "It was definitely the loudest crowd I've ever been a part of. I haven't pitched in the playoffs so this is what I would think playoff baseball would seem like. It was awesome out there."

All you needed in order to feel some October in the March air was to witness the wild celebration the Netherlands put on after their shocker over the D.R., and how there was no need to apologize for it.

"Did you ever see Cuba win a game and see how they celebrate? It's passion," starting pitcher Sidney Ponson said. "It's like everybody loves this game. So that's why we go there. That's the way we play games. ... We upset one of the best teams in the WBC. Everybody knows it. I think everybody in here will tell you the same thing. It was a big thing today, especially for the Netherlands team."

As one big day gives way to another in a full-throttle World Baseball Classic, here's a quick dip into the pools:

Korea eliminated China with a 14-0 rout to set up a Monday meeting with Japan, which clinched a spot in the second round in San Diego.

The Cubans are a perennial international powerhouse, and at 2 p.m. ET they meet the South Africans, relatively new to the scene. Team Mexico has a similar situation facing Australia in the 9 p.m. ET nightcap, plus a home-field advantage. Perhaps both teams have reminded themselves of a little fact going in -- or should: Netherlands 3, Dominican Republic 2.

The U.S. team won't have much time to bask in their win over Canada, because Venezuela comes in having cruised to a 7-0 victory over Italy and with an All-Star cast that includes Miguel Cabrera and Magglio Ordonez. It'll be on Roy Oswalt to pitch the U.S. to victory, which would clinch their place in the second round in Miami. "In my head, I've pitched against some of these guys before," Oswalt said, "so I know kind of a way to get some of those guys out." Meanwhile, Canada gets a day to get ready to play Italy on Monday.

Strange as it may sound, Felipe Alou's Dominican team is in the same situation Chinese Taipei was in just 24 hours earlier, and now Chinese Taipei is out of the tournament. But going into the D.R.-Panama matchup at 4:30 p.m. ET, one of the world's most powerful, talented teams is reduced to a must-win situation very quickly.

"We have to go back [today] and win, because if we don't win, we won't be able to play," Alou said after Saturday's stunner. "China beat Taiwan last night. That is the situation. They know it. They knew we had to win today, and if we lost today we are against the wall. The team knows that."

What the D.R. didn't know was what hit them Saturday, but then the rest of the world didn't either.

Who knew a 6-foot-5 right-hander named Leon Boyd could enter in the ninth inning, spin some helicopter sliders and put forth perhaps the most memorable save in World Baseball Classic's short history?

The closer who made history, as it turns out, doesn't have much of one himself, as the postgame interview session showed.

Question: "Before today, what was the biggest game you ever closed out?"

Boyd: "Actually, this is the first time I ever closed."

And so Boyd and his 1.000 career save percentage will wait out a day before taking on another Goliath in host Puerto Rico on Monday.

But the Classic won't wait another day, which means another Classic experience is in store.

John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.