Monday, March 11, 2013

USA battles back and battles onto round 2

For the third straight game, the US found themselves in an early hole, and down by one entering the eighth inning against Canada.

Two mighty swings by Adam Jones and Eric Hosmer later, it's onto the next round against Puerto Rico.

Pac Man hit a one-out, two-run double to put the US up one, and Hosmer's bases clearing double in the ninth put the icing on the cake in a 9-4 victory.  It certainly wasn't easy, as the US had to play catchup once again, but found a way to get it done for the second straight day.

In a sign of the times, the US gave the ball to Derek Holland in a win-or-go-home scenario, which shows just how many other pitchers decided to skip this tournament.  Nothing against Holland, but he doesn't exactly ring of "shut down pitcher" when a win is needed.

A major reason Holland was held off until Sunday was due to the lefty-heavy Canadian lineup.  That worked for a couple of innings, but the third was different.  Justin Morneau led off with a double, and Michael Saunders, who hit just about as well as you possibly could in this tournament, cranked a two-run shot to right, making it 2-0.

What's probably lost in all of this is that Canada had runners on the corners with nobody out, yet Holland wiggled out of trouble unharmed.  In fact, those were the only two runs he gave up in five strong innings.  So give the boy some credit, he pitched a solid game.

In the fourth, the US got those runs back, with a little help from the other team.  Joe Mauer singled leading off and David Wright walked.  Ben Zobrist got the surprising start in right, and his bunt single led to a ball thrown away at first, bringing in Mauer.  A sac-fly RBI by Jones later, it was 2-2.

Things stayed even until Canada plated one against Glen Perkins in the sixth.  Joey Votto walked and Morneau singled to start the inning, but Perkins got the next two.  Adam Loewen had a great at-bat by battling off many pitches before hitting an RBI single, putting his team back up 3-2.

The pressure was definitely on the US in the eighth, especially after blowing two runners in scoring position with one out the previous inning.  Mauer and Wright again singled and walked to start things up, but this time Zobrist popped up a bunt, which was horrible execution.  Fortunately, that's when Jones found his power with his two-run double, grabbing the lead at 4-3.  Shane Victorino added an RBI single, and it was now 5-3.

David Hernandez was summoned to shut down the eighth... which is precisely what he didn't do.  He didn't give up the lead at least, but sure made it interesting.  Votto, Saunders, and Chris Robinson all singled to load 'em up.  Loewen grounded one into the hole between first and second, which is where Brandon Phillips made a fantastic diving stop to get an out, allowing only one run to score.  Steve Cishek came in, walked Pete Orr intentionally, and got Tim Smith grounding out to end the threat.

With only a one-run cushion, the US went to work in the ninth.  Phillips led off with a double and scored on an RBI single by Jonathan Lucroy, hitting in Mauer's spot.  Closer Jonathan Axford came in to keep it at two runs down, but that's when Hosmer ripped hit three-run double with two outs, blowing the game wide open.

Just for fun, Joe Torre sent in a well-rested Craig Kimbrel to put the cherry on top, freezing Votto to end the game.

The final score doesn't do justice to just how close a game this was for 95% of it.  Give Canada lots of credit for going pitch-for-pitch and nearly pulling off the upset.  The US just had too much muscle for them, and it didn't come out until late.

It's hard to imagine just how much flak the US would have received if they didn't get those big swings late in the game, but thankfully for them they don't have to worry about it.  There's no doubt Torre would have been blamed for sitting Giancarlo Stanton and starting Zobrist and Victorino for the first time.  Heck, he's getting heat for that now even with the win.

Stanton didn't get a hit in the first two games, but he has such massive power, I was fully expecting to see him back in there on Sunday, maybe just a bit lower in the order.  Nothing against Zobrist, who did get three hits, but I would think Stanton will start in his home park on Tuesday and beyond.

Let's give the US their props for fighting from behind two games in a row, even if the talent on the other side of the field doesn't nearly match their roster.  They still had to get the job done facing the pressure of being a laughingstock, quite frankly, and they did.  So kudos to them.

Next up is Puerto Rico, with Italy taking on the Dominican Republic in the other half of the bracket.  Gio Gonzalez will go in the first game, and R.A. Dickey will look to redeem himself by going whenever the second game may be.

No comments: