It may have taken them a full 25 innings to come alive, but the Team USA batters picked a fine to come alive in this year’s World Baseball Classic. It took a 3-2 deficit to Canada with just six outs left in the game for the Americans to finally feel the pressure, but they responded to it extremely well, rallying to outscore Canada 7-1 in the final two innings of the game, punching their ticket to Miami with a 9-4 win that got them the number seed in Pool D.
Team USA’s usual suspects in this tournament were responsible for the comeback. Joe Mauer and David Wright started off the top of the eighth inning with a single and a walk for Team USA, setting the stage for a big inning. Almost every other time this had happened before, the Americans would have found a way to end the inning without a run scored. A pop up here, a strike out there; anything they could do to leave runners on base, they’d do.
But things changed this time around, even if there was a brief moment of utter disappointment that made me doubt Team USA’s chances. When Ben Zobrist bunted the ball into the air for the first out of the inning, I got the feeling that it just wasn’t in the cards for the United States this time around. But then Adam Jones stepped to the plate, and he would be the hero of the day.
Jones got down 0-2 in the count but got a slider out over the plate from Jimmy Hinderson, and he drove deep into the left center field gap. With pinch runner Willie Bloomquist and Wright running to start the play, both came into score easily as Jones went into second with a go-ahead 2 RBI double. Following an Eric Hosmer strikeout, Shane Victorino picked up his first and only hit of the first round, and it was a big one, a looping single into left that plated Jones to give Team USA a 5-3 lead.
As was the case all day, Canada would just not go away. Joey Votto, Michael Saunders and Chris Robinson all singled in the bottom of the eighth inning to load the bases with one out. Then Adam Loewen grounded out to second, bringing in a run on the fielder’s choice. Luckily for Team USA, their bullpen and the flexibility of their relief arms allowed for Joe Torre to go to Steve Cishek in a crucial situation (bases loaded with two outs and a run one lead) to get the job done.
Team USA would blow it open in the ninth, finally showing us a consistent display of the offensive prowess that we all expected from them in this tournament. Brandon Phillips started off the ninth inning with a double and was brought in by Jonathan Lucroy on a single two batters later. Wright worked a walk and Zobrist collected an infield single to load the bases for Hosmer, who blasted one deep into center field for a three RBI double. When Hosmer, the guy who had left more than 10 batters on-base in his previous tourney at-bats, got a big hit, you knew the tide was starting to turn.
With a five run lead in the ninth, there was no doubting that Team USA would win the game, especially with Craig Kimbrel, the game’s best closer, coming on to pitch.
Derek Holland was alright for the Americans, but he was unable to reverse the eerily consistent trend that developed over the course of the weekend for Team USA’s starters; each one of them gave up a pair of runs in the first two innings and then settled in to pitch a decent game. The best part about what Team USA’s starting staff did was that they prevented the need for Torre to use Gio Gonzalez in any capacity, which will allow Gonzalez to pitch in the first game of the second round against Puerto Rico.
Team USA may not have played a lot of impressive baseball over the weekend, but the important thing is that they finally broke through when it mattered, allowing them an opportunity for a fresh start in Miami.
They’ll be facing off against much tougher competition down there, as their game tomorrow will come against a Puerto Rico team with several MLB players like Angel Pagan, Mike Aviles, Yadier Molina, Carlos Beltran and J.C. Romero, but I believe that Team USA has the best team remaining in the tournament (the Netherlands eliminated Cuba this morning). The Dominican is scary, with Robinson Cano, Jose Reyes, Carlos Santana, Hanley Ramirez, Edwin Encarnacio and Nelson Cruz in the line-up and Octavio Dotel and Fernando Rodney on the mound, but if Team USA’s hitters are ready to play, their line-up is every bit as good as the Dominican’s, and their pitching staff is much deeper.
They may have scared us with their lack of offensive production over the weekend, but if their last two innings against Canada are any indication, Team USA may just be getting started in this World Baseball Classic.