Italy staged a dramatic ninth-inning comeback against the San Francisco Giants’ closer Sergio Romo to upset Mexico in the World Baseball Classic, 6-5. Mexico almost replicated the feat in the bottom of the ninth, but Jason Grilli survived the scare to close out the victory.
Italy wasted no time getting on the board. With one out, Chris Denorfia doubled and went to third on an Anthony Rizzo single. Alex Liddi plated the lead runner with a two-run base hit off Mexico’s starter Rodrigo López, and it was 1-0 after only four batters.
López whiffed the next batter, but Mike Constanzo, who struck out in his other three at bats stroked a safety to right to score Rizzo. Mario Chiarini would walk, but López would get Drew Butera swinging to end the frame.
Eduardo Arredondo led off the bottom of the inning with a walk and went to third on Ramiro Peña’s double to the wall in right centre. After Italy’s starter John Mariotti got the first out, he walked Adrián González to load the bases. Jorge Cantú made him pay, stroking a bases-clearing double to make it 3-2. Mariotti finished the frame with back-to-back strikeouts.
López got the blue-and-white to go 1-2-3 in the second, but Mexico added to their lead against Mariotti. With two down, Arredondo hit a single to centre and went to second after Denorfia let the ball skip by him. Tiago da Silva came on to pitch for Italy, and Mexico immediately capitalised when Peña hit his second double, this time into the right field corner to make it 4-2.
Both teams turned double players in the third inning to send only three batters to the plate. López’ night came to an end, though he did not give up a hit after two outs in the first. He struck out four, walked one, and hit one in his three frames.
Italy took back the lead against his replacement, Alfredo Aceves. Chiarini hit a one-out single to left and Butera followed him up with a prodigious blast to left-centre to make it 4-3. It was only the second home run ever by Italy in its third WBC.
Another hit in the inning was wasted after Aceves got consecutive ground balls to end the fourth, and da Silva sailed through a 1-2-3 fourth, striking out two.
After Aceves dodged a fifth inning that saw Italy put runners on first and third with one out, Mexico rallied in the fifth. Arredondo reached base for the third straight time on a single to centre. Peña bunted him over and Luís Cruz knocked him home with a two-bagger.
Da Silva got the final two outs by K and would hit the showers after throwing 3 1/3 frames and giving up just one run to the powerful Mexican offence. Da Silva, who pitches for T&A San Marino in the Italian Baseball League, struck out five and walked one intentionally, surrendering four hits.
Aceves finished out the six with a three-up, three-down inning and also exited the game. He hurled three frames, giving up two runs on five hits and no walks, striking out Costanzo twice.
Neither club could push a run home in the sixth through eighth innings, with Mexico and Italy both retiring four in-a-row to enter the eighth with the score at 5-4 in Mexico’s favour.
After 4 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings by his bullpen, Mexico manager Rick Rentería inserted closer Sergio Romo. Romo earned his second World Series ring in 2012, saving three of the Giants’ four wins, striking out five in three scoreless innings. He has a career 2.20 ERA in MLB.
The blue-and-white were not intimidated, and Nick Punto, who plays for the NL West rival Los Angeles Dodgers, roped a double to left field with one out. Denorfia collected a single to put runners on the corners, and Rizzo blasted a double to the wall in left that scored Punto and Denorfia. All three balls were misplayed by Mexico’s leftfielder Édgar González, who is normally an infielder.
Italy almost tacked on another after Rizzo advanced to third on a passed ball, still with only one down. Liddi bounced a ball to shortstop and Rizzo tried to score, but was caught in the 6-2-5-1 run-down. Romo got a grounder for the third out, but Italy had taken the lead at 6-5.
Jason Grilli entered to close the game for the blue-and-white, but Mexico immediately made things interesting. Pinch hitter Walter Ibarra stroked a single to left to start the frame and was bunted to second by Arredondo. Grilli got a quick second out from Peña, but walked Cruz to put runners on the corners for cleanup hitter Adrián González.
The slugger worked a 2-2 count, fouling off two more pitches, but Grilli hit the first baseman on the foot to load the bases. Cantú came up and worked the count full, but Italy’s closer induced a ground ball to end the game.
Nick Pugliese, who pitched 1 1/3 innings and struck out one, got the win and Romo the loss. Oscar Villareal and Fernando Salas each hurled scoreless innings with a strikeout for the losers.
Pugliese and Grilli combined with Luca Panerati and Matt Torra to hold Mexico scoreless in the last four frames. All told, the Italian bullpen tossed 7 1/3 innings, giving up just one run and striking out six against two walks.
Denorfia, Rizzo, and Liddi, the 3-4-5 hitters in the lineup, all had two hits apiece. Denorfia scored twice and Rizzo joined Butera with a pair of RBIs. Four of Italy’s 12 hits were for extra bases, and its batters hit .438 with runners on base.
Mexico had 11 hits, including four extra base hits. Arredondo, Peña, and Adrián González all had a pair of hits. González reached base in all five plate appearances. Arredondo crossed the plate three times. Cantú, Karm García, and Édgar González, the 5-6-7 hitters for Mexico, were 2-for-13 with seven strikeouts and left 11 men on base.
Italy, ranked ninth in the world, will take on No. 6 Canada in their next contest. First pitch is at 7 p.m. GMT on Mar. 8. Mexico will have to battle back against No. 2 USA on Mar. 9 at 2 a.m. GMT. Stay tuned for coverage of these games and the rest of the action in the World Baseball Classic.