World Baseball Classic upstarts Italy took an early lead against the United States but was unable to hold it, and the American got their first win in 2013, 6-2. Faced with a humiliating elimination if they lost, the U.S. was saved by the bat of David Wright, who hit a grand slam in a five-run American fifth.
Italy continued their surprising play from the start of the game, looking confident against U.S. starter Ryan Vogelsong, whose last official start saw him pitch 5 2/3 scoreless innings for the victory in game three of the World Series. Nick Punto, who plays for the Los Angeles Dodgers, rivals of Vogelsong’s San Francisco Giants, started off the bottom of the first with a single.
Anthony Rizzo stroked a one-out safety and was erased on a fielder’s choice by Alex Liddi, moving Punto to third. Punto took off for home on a wild pitch by Vogelsong and Italy had a 1-0 lead.
The Azzurri would tack on another run in the second, once more with two outs. Tyler LaTorre lined a single to centre and came home one batter later on a double by Anthony Granato. Punto followed with a second-straight hit, but Vogelsong got out of the jam with a ground ball.
Luca Panerati, who pitched for Bologna in the Italian Baseball League (IBL) in 2012, stymied the American offence for the first three innings, scattering three hits and striking out one without walking a batter. The 23-year old southpaw impressed with his ability to use a low-70s/high-110s changeup and a mid-80s/low-130s fastball to keep the U.S. off-balance.
The red, white, and blue finally got on the board in the fourth against reliever Marco Grifantini, another product of the IBL. Ryan Braun singled to start the frame and came around on a double from Joe Mauer. With no outs and Mauer in scoring position, the Americans had a chance to break the game wide open, but Grifantini bore down. The right-hander got a grounder from Wright and back-to-back strikeouts of Giancarlo Stanton and Eric Hosmer.
The Italians were punchless against Vogelsong in his final full frame. The U.S. starter struck out the side to run his total for the game to four. He allowed six hits and two runs in his appearance.
After a strong finish to the fourth, Grifantini stayed in the game to face the bottom of the American order, but was pulled after walking Adam Jones and giving up a single to Jonathan Lucroy. Matt Torra came on to pitch and got the first out, but gave up a single to Brandon Phillips that scored Jones.
Braun struck out swinging against Torra and Italy was one out away from keeping the game level at two. Torra walked Mauer to load the bags and had Wright down 1-2, but grooved a changeup to the New York Mets’ star third baseman, who crushed it to left centre for a grand slam.
The bullpens took over for the rest of the game. The U.S. put two runners on in the sixth and seventh, but a succession of relievers for the blue-and-white kept the game close. Italy managed only one hit the rest of the way, as Ross Detwiler hurled the final four innings.
Detwiler relieved Jeremy Affeldt, who struck out one in a scoreless fifth, and needed only 51 pitches to finish the game. He struck out three and allowed only two baserunners for the first save of his professional career.
Italy, rated ninth in the world rankings, had been the first team to qualify for the second round from either of the North American brackets, and used the game to get most of their roster some experience. Marco Mazzieri, skipper for Team Italy, used 23 players to set a new WBC record. Nine were pitchers, equalling a mark hit several times in this year’s tournament.
Panerati was the most impressive, though he was the only pitcher to record more than three outs. Grifantini took the loss, while Vogelsong earned his first victory in international play.
The U.S. collected 11 hits and five walks against Italian pitching and left nine on base. Four players had a brace of hits and each run was scored by a different player. Wright and Rollins both had their second two-hit day of the Classic.
Italy’s next match will be in Miami on Mar. 12, while the fortunes of the U.S. team were still up-in-the air after its second game in Pool D.
Come back for all the news on the second round of the World Baseball Classic.