The United States, ranked second in the global baseball charts, survived a tenacious Canadian team and piled on two big innings late in the game in a 9-4 victory. The Pool D finale was a winner-take-all event, and it was the U.S. who will advance to Miami to join Italy, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico as the top seed from the pool.
Both countries received battling efforts from their starters, each of whom gave up two runs in a single inning, but faced several threats. Sixth-rated Canada’s relief pitchers could not keep up with talents of the U.S. all-stars.
It appeared that the Americans would strike first when David Wright led off the top of the second with a booming double to the wall in right centre. He moved to third on a fielding error that put runners on first and second. Adam Jones bunted Wright and Ben Zobrist over, but Wright was caught in a rundown on a sharply struck ground ball off the bat of Eric Hosmer and the U.S. failed to score.
It was Canada who first claimed the lead against U.S. starter Derek Holland. In the bottom of the frame, Justin Morneau led off with a double on the first offering from Holland, and two pitches later, left-handed hitting Michael Saunders blasted a two-run homer off the southpaw. The four-bagger to the right field corner gave Canada a 2-0 lead. Holland gave up two more hits in the inning but kept the margin at two.
After the rough second inning, Maple Leaf starter Jameson Taillon settled in for the third, striking out two in the 1-2-3 frame. The Pittsburgh Pirates’ top prospect caught both Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Braun looking.
Canada failed to add to their lead in the third and the U.S. figured out Taillon. Joe Mauer started things off with a hit and moved over on a walk to Wright. Ben Zobrist tapped a bouncer between the pitcher’s mound and third base, and beat out a wild throw from Taylor Green. The throwing error caused Mauer to score and Zobrist moved to third with no outs. Jones had another sacrifice to drive in a run, this time of fly ball variety, and the score remained 2-2 through four.
Both teams were retired 1-2-3 in the fifth, with Dustin Molleken taking over for Taillon, who allowed one earned run on four hits and a walk. Holland went five innings, retiring the final seven batters he faced, though he had to settle for the no decision. He struck out four and surrendered two runs, also allowing four hits and a base on balls.
Canada took back the lead in the sixth. Joey Votto walked and went to second on Justin Morneau’s second safety of the game. New U.S. pitcher Glen Perkins looked like he might work out of the predicament after catching Saunders looking at strike three and inducing a fly ball for the second out, but Adam Loewen ripped a RBI-single to make it 3-2.
A pressing American offence got two hits in the seventh and had runners on second and third with one out, but Phillippe Aumont retired Brandon Phillips and Ryan Braun. The Philadelphia Phillies’ pitcher pumped his fists in exultation after Braun grounded out and Canada needed only two more outs to advance.
Desperate for an insurance run, Heath Bell registered a three-up, three-down inning for Canada in the seventh and turned the ball over to the U.S. hitters for the eighth.
Joe Mauer bounced a ball up-the-middle to lead off the frame, going to second on a walk to Wright. Zobrist tried unsuccessfully to bunt the runners over, popping out to the catcher for the first out. Jones picked up his teammate with a two-run double to deep left centre and gave the U.S. its first lead in the game. Shane Victorino made up for back-to-back strikeouts with runners on with a single through the hole into left field to make it 5-2.
David Hernández, rusty from over a week without use, was the recipient of some bad luck in the bottom of the eighth, giving up a run on two infield singles and one safety to the outfield on a 10-pitch at bat to plucky Canadian catcher Chris Robinson. The RBI went to Loewen, who scored Votto on a groundball. U.S. manager Joe Torre once more used his bullpen well, inserting Steve Cishek with two outs and runners on second and third and getting a ground ball out to end the threat.
With the score now 5-4, the red, white, and blue looked to regain the momentum and add an insurance run to the score, but they got their best offensive output of the tournament. Phillips started with a double and came around to tie the game on a Jonathan Lucroy safety. A third walk to Wright and an infield hit to Zobrist loaded the bases, and Hosmer, a late addition to the squad, roped a long double to centre to make it 9-3. The two-bagger was his third hit of the game.
Craig Kimbrel, the U.S. closer, exhibited filthy stuff in the bottom of the ninth, averaging 95/153 on a late-tailing fastball to catch two batters looking, including slugger Votto to end the game.
The win went to Bell and the loss to Henderson, who started the disastrous eighth inning. Both Torre and Team Canada skipper Ernie Whitt used six pitchers in the game.
Canada left eight men on base and hit .273 with runners in scoring position, while the US stroke a .353 mark in the same situations. Zobrist had three infield singles to pace the American team in hits. Jones and Hosmer each drove in three and Wright crossed the plate on three different occasions. Braun and Rollins both had stolen bases.
Canada is eliminated from the World Baseball Classic with a 4-2 record in all rounds, leaving them at 9-5 all-time. The United States will face the loser of the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico contest on Mar. 13 at 1 a.m. GMT. Stay tuned for more recaps, news, and analysis.