3/21/2013 7:13 P.M. ET
Strop returns to O's a Classic champion
Right-hander played critical role in Dominican Republic's title run
By Brittany Ghiroli / MLB.com
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Pedro Strop was back in the Orioles clubhouse on Thursday afternoon, following a whirlwind few weeks as part of the Dominican Republic team that ran the table and topped Puerto Rico to capture the World Baseball Classic Championship.
Strop, who flew in late Wednesday night from San Francisco, walked in toting all of his Classic championship gear and was greeted warmly by teammates, including Wilson Betemit and Alexi Casilla, who have hung a Dominican Republic flag over their lockers.
"It was unbelievable," said Strop, who pitched eight scoreless innings during the tournament. "I don't even know how to describe this experience, an unbelievable feeling. That's the only thing I can say.
"The first meeting that we had with the team, that was the key for everything. Everybody talked, everybody said something, everybody was pushing in the same direction. That was the key for the team.
"The past two WBCs, they didn't do the job that everybody expected us to, and we were focused on doing good work, to do a good thing and show the world that Dominicans ... that we can play. We were going to do what everybody expected us to do, and in the first meeting we talked about it, [and said] 'Let's push this together.' And we worked together."
Strop and his teammates came under some scrutiny while playing Team USA in Miami earlier in the tournament, with some people feeling the Dominican Republic's celebrations were excessive. Strop, who is no stranger to showing emotion on the mound, said it's not meant to be offensive, but rather bring the team closer.
"It might look weird to some people, because they don't know the way we play baseball in the Dominican, but this is the way we grew up playing," Strop said. "We were playing for the Dominican team. That's ours right there. From the first day, we were on the same page. We wanted to win the tournament. We went for it. We went hard.
"We were in the U.S., but we knew that we were in Miami and there are a lot of Dominicans in Miami. We kind of knew the Dominicans [in the stands] were going to support us on the field. It was weird. It was kind of weird. You're in the U.S. You're playing against the U.S. team and you see that many people supporting you. It was weird, but it was fun at the same time."
Strop, who was playing in his first Classic, said last year's Orioles playoff run helped prepare him for the atmosphere, although the tournament format of do-or-die in the semifinals made it even more intense.
Strop was joined by Orioles bullpen coach Billy Castro, who served as pitching coach, and he was used in a big spot right from the get-go, going out for a second inning in his first game appearance.
"I knew [manager Buck Showalter] was going to be like 'Ehhhh, what's going on?'," said Strop of going multiple innings so early. "But, at the same time, I knew it wasn't a lot of pitches, so I wasn't going to do anything stupid, either."
The challenge now will be slowing down Strop -- who Showalter said probably won't pitch before Saturday -- with about two weeks until Opening Day. Projected to be part of the back end of the bullpen, Strop is coming off a 2012 season in which he went 5-2 with a 2.44 ERA in 70 games, but the power righty tired down the stretch.
"If I've got to pitch today, I'm just going to pitch the way I have to, to try and get outs," Strop said. "All that playing for your country, all that thing is part of your preparation for the season because that's the most important thing, the season. Be ready to give your team a chance to win."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.