The Dominican Republic defeated Nicaragua as they were supposed to, 6-1, in the World Baseball Classic on Monday to win their first game of the tournament. But the biggest story came from the losing team.
Nicaragua’s Duque Hebbert stole the show in the top of the ninth when he took the mound and struck out MLB stars Juan Soto, Julio Rodríguez and Rafael Devers.
That performance led the Detroit Tigers to offer the 21-year-old a contract before he left LoanDepot Park in Miami on Monday night. He reportedly signed the dotted line.
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Tigers scout Luis Molina found Hebbert after the game, talked to him and asked him a few questions, eventually offering him a minor league contract, according to ESPN, who was told to the team bus once everything was done. it was resolved.
«He showed what he’s made of,» Nicaragua coach Sandor Guido said through an interpreter on ESPN. «When you have the will, when you have the heart, you can do very good things.»
While the WBC is all about some of the best players in the game donning their country’s colors and vying for global glory in baseball, it also showcases the unheralded players from countries that aren’t supposed to be true contenders. Nicaragua is among those teams with solid players, but the level of talent compared to teams like the Dominican Republic doesn’t match.
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But Hebbert wasn’t thinking about that going into the ninth with the Dominican Republic already leading 6-1 and just looking to add insurance. The 5-foot-9 right-hander grabbed the baseball and went to work.
First it was Soto, who continues to be an MVP candidate every time he takes the field in MLB. Hebbert started it off with a dunk just under 90 mph for a called strike. He then displayed what Molina probably loved on the next two pitches: a devastating changeup.
Hebbert’s changeup is thrown hard and he had great movement down, which became a matter of the strikeouts he racked up in the frame. Soto swung and missed two of them, returning to the dugout after three pitches.
Next, Rodríguez was able to foul on two pitches after going on a 2-0 pro-hitter count. But Hebbert removed the slider at 2-2, which Rodriguez waved for another strikeout.
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Powerhouse Manny Machado was down 0-2 on Hebbert before he got some good wood on a slider for a double, but that didn’t faze the right-hander.
Devers came up and worked a full count before another changeup caused him to swing and miss Hebbert’s third and final strikeout of the night.
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Hebbert has a ways to go before he faces those hitters in the big leagues, but the WBC is proving it can handle one of the biggest stages in all of baseball against some of the best talent in the world.