At last, the United States has reached the World Baseball Classic final. How fitting, then, that the nation’s unincorporated island territory of Puerto Rico will be in the opposing dugout at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday night, for what should be an epic championship contest.

These two powerhouses met just last week in Pool F, where Puerto Rico withstood a furious U.S. rally to hold on for a 6-5 win. Both have since survived rocky roads and a few scares from the Netherlands and Japan, respectively, to reach this final.

Things are going to be emotional and heated Wednesday as both teams try to bring a first WBC title home to their baseball-mad nations. Before first pitch is thrown, here’s three things to know about the 2017 World Baseball Classic final:

Off-day advantage

In a tournament built around bullpens and pitch counts, a seemingly innocuous detail such as an off day between the semifinal and the final could end up rearing its head. Puerto Rico is the benefactor here, having played in the first of the two semifinals Monday. Knowing his team would have Tuesday off may have influenced manager Edwin Rodriguez’s decision to let closer Edwin Diaz pitch two innings against the Dutch. (Diaz’s big-league team, the Mariners, will let him work one inning in the final.) Had Diaz thrown 30 pitches that night he would have been required to rest for one day, but that rule didn’t matter with Tuesday off. For Puerto Rico, only semifinal starter Jorge Lopez (58 pitches) and the man who relieved him, Hector Santiago (63), are off the table for the final.

U.S. skipper Jim Leyland (and his Japanese counterpart Hiroki Kokubo) had to really manage around that rule in Tuesday’s semifinal, knowing their arms would be needed Wednesday. Leyland ignored the final round’s pitch limit of 95 and pulled starter Tanner Roark early. He then took his bullpen management to the extreme – but didn’t let any of his six relievers surpass the 19-pitch mark all night, meaning everybody in his bullpen (plus, potentially, Danny Duffy on four days’ rest) is available to back up Marcus Stroman. Still, Andrew Miller threw 17 pitches Tuesday, Sam Dyson tossed 12, and new guy Mark Melancon got himself into trouble on just 11 pitches. So while Leyland will have all his relief options there for him, he’s got to be careful – it’s still March, after all, and unlike Puerto Rico, the U.S. has no rest.

Related – Poll: Who will win the World Baseball Classic?

Lugo-Stroman II

Hey, this pitching matchup sounds familiar. Five days ago, the Americans started Stroman against Puerto Rico’s Seth Lugo in their Pool F match. Now, the two will duel again in the final, with both hoping for different personal results. Puerto Rico rocked Stroman for four runs on eight hits, although all the damage against him came in the first inning; Lugo scattered three runs and a pair of strikeouts over his 5 2/3 innings in that game, but did allow two U.S. homers. Both pitchers have a lot riding on this start: Lugo wants to finish what’s been his breakout tournament on a very strong note, while the always fiery Stroman – who never fails to pitch with a chip on his shoulder – will have some added motivation after revealing that Puerto Rican fans sent “vulgar comments” to his mother, who hails from the island.

(Photo courtesy: Action Images)

History will be made

One of these nations will win its first crown Wednesday – but there’s a lot more than just bragging rights at stake. For the flashy Puerto Ricans, it’s about finishing a job that began four years ago, when they surprisingly reached the 2013 final but lost to the Dominicans. The team’s graying (or, more appropriately for them, blond-ing) veterans wish to finally bring their country back to the top as they pass the torch to that incredible trio of young infield superstars, and there’s never been a better opportunity.

But the Americans who stand in their way are finally playing this tournament for keeps. The team’s passion has been noticed at home, and a U.S. victory in its first-ever finals appearance would increase the WBC’s profile in America tenfold and make every name on that roster a hero for life. A loss wouldn’t be devastating to the program, but it would hurt given the increased interest this year – though it would likely put a lot more pressure on America’s big boys to actually show up in 2021.

No matter what happens, though, baseball history will be made in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

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