Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Captain America powers Team USA

If Team USA is going to win this World Baseball Classic thing, they have the perfect guy with the perfect nickname ready to carry them all the way.

"Captain America" David Wright came through with another huge night, driving in five runs to back Gio Gonzalez's gem, as the US pounded Puerto Rico, 7-1.  The win earns them a berth against the loaded Domincan Republic on Thursday, with the winner of that onto the championship round.

With Gonzalez looking every bit like the 21-game winner he was last season with the Nationals, the US finally scored first, unlike their previous three games.  Ryan Braun took a walk with two outs in the first, and Joe Mauer's RBI single made it 1-0.

From there, the US added a single run here and there, while the combination of Gonzalez, Jeremy Affeldt, and Vinnie Pestano shut down the Puerto Ricans through seven.  In the third, Brandon Phillips singled, Braun did the same, and Mauer walked to load the bases.  Wright got his first RBI on a fielder's choice, though Mike Aviles's diving stop at short kept the damage to one.

"Captian America" tacked on another RBI in the fifth, as his single scored Jimmy Rollins, who singled leading off the inning, to make it 3-0.  The lead was stretched to 4-0 in the seventh when Adam Jones singled to center, scoring Eric Hosmer.

About the only threat Puerto Rico could muster was in the eighth, and even then they only scored one run.  Miami's own Steve Cishek beaned Jesus Feliciano leading off.  That brought in David Hernandez, who gave up a double to Eddie Rosario and an RBI groundout to Angel Pagan.  Alex Rios popped up to end the inning.

The bottom of the eighth is when the US took over for good, as has been the case during this three-game winning streak.  Rollins and Braun singled, then Mauer took another walk.  Wright smacked a three-run double to deep center, blowing the game open at 7-1.

Craig Kimbel put the cherry on top by getting Aviles to ground into a game ending double play.

Two things are becoming quite apparent as this tournament rolls on.  One, if the opposing team wants to win, they need to grab an early lead and build on it.  Two, the US gets more comfortable at the plate as the game progresses, so you can count on some runs late in the game.  In other words, to beat the US, you better build a big enough lead to withstand a late charge.

And while you're at it, you might want to avoid pitching to Wright, even if men are on base.  Of course, that's kinda hard if the bases are loaded, but you get my point.  Through four games, "Captain America" is hitting .438 with a 1.276 OPS and 10 RBIs.  The RBIs are tops in the tourney.  Right now the Mets actually look like a brilliant team for once, as they clearly have the right guy to build around.  At the plate and with the leather, he's been awesome.

What's nearly forgotten in this one is the great start by Gonzalez, who pitched five shutout innings, striking out five.  His stuff looked very sharp, too, which isn't exactly good news for the rest of the league.  Kudos to the bullpen as well.  We all know that the pitch counts turns these games into bullpen affairs as the game wears on, and the US looks more than ready for that.

When the WBC is all said and done, we may look back on Thursday's matchup as the biggest game.  The Domincan Republic boasts and undefeated record, plus studs like Robinson Cano, Hanley Ramirez, and Jose Reyes.  The US is getting better and better each game.  That's going to be fun to watch.

Joe Torre will turn to R.A. Dickey, who is definitely looking to bounce back after a subpar performance in a loss to Mexico.  Puerto Rico goes with Samuel Deduno, who is mostly a middle reliever with the Twins, rather than Wandy Rodiguez, who is not on his regular rest.  The winner earns a ticket to San Francisco, the loser plays Friday against the winner of Italy and Puerto Rico.

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