The Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico have turned the World Baseball Classic into their own private invitational over the past couple of weeks. They finished 1-2 in Pool C of the tournament's first round, and again in Pool 2 of the second round. Each time, a highly rated world power fell by the wayside as the two Caribbean teams rolled on.
But as they prepare to meet in the Classic's championship round Tuesday night, an odd quirk of the tournament will be revealed. Thanks to the single-elimination format of the semifinal and final rounds, tonight's losing team could finish with a more impressive overall -- and head-to-head -- record than the winning team.
Should the Dominicans win, there will be no doubt it was the superior team in the entire Classic. Manager Tony Pena's team would then have rolled through the entire tournament undefeated, with an extremely impressive 8-0 mark through two rounds of pool play and the final two games in San Francisco. That record would include a perfect 3-for-3 against runner-up Puerto Rico.
But if the underdog Puerto Rican club should win, the aftermath would be a bit muddy. Obviously, Puerto Rico would be crowned champion, and rightly so -- it advanced through the two preliminary rounds, and would then have won both its games in the final stage. The rules are clear, and each time a team advances to another round of the tournament, its previous results are thrown out the window.
Even so, it would result in a strange situation.
In such a scenario, the runner-up Dominican would be 8-1 overall, with champion Puerto Rico at 6-3. Moreover, even with a loss, the Dominican team would be 2-1 against Puerto Rico in the tournament. The D.R. defeated host Puerto Rico in pool play in San Juan in the first round. A similar result occurred in the second round of pool play, in Miami in a game for seeding after both teams had already clinched their berths in the semifinals.
It's not really an injustice, per se, since the rules are clear. And in each previous meeting, both teams had already punched their tickets for the next round. Both times, they were playing for seeding rather than to determine elimination or advancement.
So Tuesday's game is not only for the title, it's fair to say it's the first time the two teams have played with high stakes. But anyone who saw either of the previous games knows that neither team was playing as though nothing was on the line. They went all out. They will again on Tuesday. But this one matters more than the other two combined.
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.