GUADALAJARA, México – Italy jumped out to an early 5-0 lead, but Venezuela scored eight unanswered runs and the two nations traded comebacks until the South Americans finally triumphed in the tenth. Martín Prado had the game-winning RBI to cap an outstanding 5-for-5 night.
In a game with drastic consequences for both teams, Italy looked, by far, the most inspired of the two nations in the early going. While Venezuela put runners at second and third in the first inning, it was Gli Azzurri who scored first in the bottom of the frame.
With two down, Francisco Cervelli roped a double to deep left centre that bounced over the fence for a ground rule double. Italy then scored its first run on a Daniel Descalso double.
Italy benefited from some impressive defensive in the early going. In the second, after a walk to Odubel Herrera, Chris Colabello snared a bloop over first base, flipped it to catcher Francesco Cervelli, and Descalso tagged the bag for a double play. One frame later, a great throw from Rob Segedin on the left field line nailed Prado trying to stretch a single. Another double play, this time Colabello to shortstop Gavin Cecchini, ended the fourth.
The offence backed up the great plays in the bottom of the third, once more with two outs. Cervelli singled and moved to third on a Segedin two-bagger, and it was Descalso with a nifty opposite field hit slapped down the left field line to plate both.
In the fourth, Italy finally knocked out Venezuelan starter Martín Pérez, who struggled terribly in this start. Alex Liddi led off the frame with a titanic home run to left centre that easily travelled 400 feet, and Brandon Nimmo clubbed his own four-bagger against reliever Bruce Rondón, and Italy took a 5-0 lead. Pérez lasted 3 1/3, surrendering four runs on six hits and a walk, striking out three.
Sam Gaviglio, a six-year minor league veteran, pitched a great game for Italy. The righthander looked confident in attacking Venezuela’s loaded lineup, and only gave up a run in the fifth after Salvador Pérez led off with a double. Alcides Escobar drove him home with a single, and Gaviglio came out after 4 2/3.
To this point, it looked like Italy would coast to the win, but the run finally got Venezuela going, and José Altuve greeted ace Italian reliever Tiago da Silva with a single. Prado then ripped a ball to right, easily scoring Escobar, while Altuve put on the wheels, losing his helmet as he raced home from first.
Venezuela’s bullpen held Italy scoreless in the fifth and sixth, and its offence took advantage. Escobar plated two more runs with a two-run double in the sixth, and Venezuela finally took the lead in the seventh.
The inning started with four consecutive hits by Altuve, Prado, Miguel Cabrera, and Carlos González, with all four coming around by the end of the frame. The big blow was González’ two-run double, while the fourth run came home on a throwing error by Descalso to the plate.
Down 8-5, Italy answered in the latter half of the seventh after reliever Robert Suárez walked Brandon Nimmo and John Andreoli to start the frame. Cervelli singled home Nimmo, and after Ender Inciarte bobbled the pickup, Andreoli scurried home as well.
Italy would knot the game at eight in the eighth, though the key play would be recorded only as ‘foul fly to third base’. José Álvarez walked Drew Butera to lead it off and, with one down, Nimmo hit a high foul ball to the left side that Prado caught reaching into the second row, tumbling into the stands after the long run.
Butera took second on the play in what turned out to be an important baserunning decision. Francisco Rodríguez, fourth all-time in MLB history in saves (430), came on to preserve the win. However, John Andreoli, who played the hero with a two-run, walkoff single against México, stroked a single to right centre, and it was a tie game. Rodríguez got out of the frame, and Venezuela set to work.
Rougned Odor pinch hit with one out for Yangervis Solarte and laced a double into the right field corner, but the big blow in the inning came from the next batter, Salvador Pérez, who ripped a huge home run to center field to deliver Venezuela a 10-8 lead.
Italy had a tall task attempting a second comeback against Rodríguez, but a throwing error by Alcides Escobar put Segedin on second, and two grounders moved him around. With two out and none on, Italy’s hopes looked dim, but the face of Italian baseball, Alex Liddi, poked a single to centre and the rally was back on. Drew Butera then drew a base on balls.
The improbable rally continued when Gavin Cecchini, a top prospect with the Mets who made his debut in 2016, laced a ball into centre. The safety plated Drew Maggi, pinch running for Liddi, and Butera came racing around from first and barrelled into Pérez at the plate as the toss came in awkwardly from Rodríguez, catching Pérez off guard. The all-star backstop held on for the out, but was knocked over backwards. Rodríguez also stayed down as the inning ended with the score once more knotted, this time at 10.
With the momentum swinging back to Italy after rallying three times against K-Rod, Venezuela took it back immediately thanks to some hustling by Altuve. The athletic second baseman beat out an infield single with one out and then sprinted home all the way from first on a double by Prado. Altuve’s hustle would prove the difference, as José Castillo came on for the save and retired Italy 1-2-3 in the bottom of the tenth as Venezuela outlasted its European counterparts.
Prado had an incredible day at the plate, reaching base six times. He totalled two doubles, three singles, and two walks, driving in three and scoring once. I asked him how he got so locked in and noted how he seemed to be having a lot of fun by the end of the game.
“Well, the way I see it, this is a difficult tournament. It’s short, and we’re not in in-season form, so you’ve got to find a way to be locked in and just get your mindset,” explained Prado. “In this kind of game that you get six, seven at-bats, you’ve got to make sure that you’re consistently trying to get good at-bats. I’ve got Miguel behind me, all those guys, heavy hitters, so I’m not trying to do too much, I’m just trying to have good at-bats and find a good pitch to hit.”
Both teams now stand at 1-1, meaning their fates will be decided tomorrow in Group D play at Charros Stadium. It was the third time Italy and Venezuela have tangled in the Classic, and Italy have yet to taste victory.
“We had to win this game some way, and I have won a lot of ballgames in my career, playoffs and World Series, and…this is [one of] the top three that I have been involved in,” remarked Venezuela manager Omar Vizquel. “Italy was a tremendous opponent. They never went down, even though we came back and we tied it 5-5, they kept scoring.”
“We went ahead twice, they came and they tied the game, and no doubt about it, it was a very interesting game where there was…a lot of strategy from both teams, and I didn’t know Italy could play baseball like this. I have to take my hat off. They were a tremendous team to compete with.”
Venezuela pounded out 17 hits in the contest, with seven going for extra bases. Carlos González also had a great day, going 3-for-5 with a walk, while Escobar was 2-for-3 with three very key RBI. Italy totalled 12 hits and seven walks, with Cervelli’s three safeties leading the way. The Pirates’ catcher is 4-for-9 in this year’s WBC.
Italy will take on Puerto Rico tomorrow in a game scheduled to start at 1:30 p.m. local time, or 7:30 p.m. GMT. The doubleheader will continue with Venezuela and México at 8 p.m. (2 a.m. GMT). There will, no doubt, be more clarity to the Pool D standings by the end of the fourth day of play, and we will have live coverage @extrainnings_bb.