By Gabriel Fidler (@gabrielfidler)
A red-hot Adrián González was too much for R.A. Dickey, whose knuckleball did not look like the one that earned him 20 wins and the 2012 NL Cy Young Award, and Mexico stunned the U.S., 5-2. González blasted a two-run homer to left centre and drove in three runs in the game.
González helped put Mexico on the board in the first inning of the North American showdown at Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Eduardo Arredondo, who had three hits in the game, led off with a safety to centre. Ramiro Peña hit his third double to put two runners in scoring position with no outs.
Luís Cruz, slated to be the Los Angeles Dodgers’ starting third baseman, drove in Arredondo with a sacrifice fly, and González got Mexico’s second run on a bouncer to second.
Yovani Gallardo took the 2-0 lead and ran with it, striking out Jimmy Rollins, getting NL Central foe Brandon Phillips on a grounder, and escaping a line shot to centre by his Milwaukee Brewers’ teammate Ryan Braun.
Dickey gave up a double to Karim García to lead off the second, but avoided any damage. Gallardo allowed a single to Joe Mauer, but induced a double play to maintain his three-up, three-down pace.
Mexico padded its lead in the third, and once more Arredondo got the team started with a line-drive single to left. He was erased on a force out by Peña, who in turn was forced out by Luís Cruz. González then drove a 2-1 knuckleball into the deck in right centre field that hit the railing and bounced down. The umpires gathered to review the play and determined that it was not a ground rule double and Mexico had a 4-0 lead.
Gallardo struck out a pair in the bottom of the third, while Dickey finished on a high note with a 1-2-3 fourth. He gave up four runs on six hits, walking no one in four innings and striking out two.
The U.S. struck in the bottom of the frame. Rollins started the rally with a single and, with one out, advanced to second on a base on balls to Braun. Mexico’s manager Rick Rentería pulled Gallardo for Luís Mendoza, who caught Mauer looking for strike three and the second out. David Wright gave the U.S. its first run of the tournament one batter later, though, singling to right. An Eric Hosmer grounder would end the threat.
Mexico got the run back in the fifth after Arredondo doubled to lead off against new pitcher Glen Perkins. Peña flashed the bunting skills he used in Mexico’s opening game to send the runner over. Cruz then lifted a fly to left to plate Arredondo and run the score to 5-1.
The U.S. put two runners on base in the fifth and sixth, but could not score, as Rentería managed his bullpen expertly to quell any potential rally. Joe Torre also worked the ‘pen well, keeping Mexico off balance in the middle frames.
Rollins had a two-out double in the seventh, but could not mount a rally. Mexico almost widened its advantage in the eighth against Tim Collins. González walked and was followed by a double from the bat of Jorge Cantú. García struck out swinging and Steve Cishek escaped the jam after intentionally walking pinch hitter Efrén Navarro, getting two outs on his mid-90s/high 140s sinker.
The Americans finally scraped together a run in the penultimate frame. Braun stroked a double that bounced off García in right and came home on a two-out single by Hosmer. That would be all for the U.S., who went down meekly against closer Sergio Romo in the ninth.
Arredondo’s three hits led the victors, though González reached base four times, with three coming as free passes. Cruz and González drove in all of Mexico’s runs. Rollins, Mauer, and Wright all collected a brace of hits, accounting for all but two of their team’s hits. The bottom three in Joe Torre’s order was 0-for-10 with four strikeouts and the lineup hit .154 with runners in scoring position.
Gallardo earned the victory for Mexico, striking out four in 3 1/3, surrendering two hits and a walk with just one run. Rentería sent six relievers to the hill to seal the victory, with Mendoza’s two shutout frames leading the bunch. He worked around five baserunners, getting three Ks. Romo earned the save with a 1-2-3 ninth as the right-hander atoned for his blown save against Italy.
With Italy leading the group, neither team assured themselves of their Pool D outcome in the contest. Stay tuned for the conclusion of WBC pool play and check back for reviews and news of the event.