I called the San Juan Pool the "Group of Death" and today, one of the big baseball powers died.
United States vs. Italy
Team USA came out firing in the first inning when both Jimmy Rollins and Brandon Phillips singled, putting two on with no outs. But Italian starter Luca Panerati got Ryan Braun to hit into a double play. When Panerati got Joe Mauer to fly out to end the threat, Team USA fans couldn't be blamed for thinking "Here we go again." In fact Panerati, who never got above the Midwest League Dayton Dragons in the Reds system, kept the lineup of American all-stars scoreless for three innings.
Meanwhile, US starter Ryan Vogelsong struggled. He allowed a single to Nick Punto, who eventually came around to score on a wild pitch in the first. In the second inning, Anthony Granato, who played in the Cubs system in 2004 and 2005, doubled home Giants minor leaguer Tyler LaTorre.
But Vogelsong righted himself in the third and fourth innings, retiring all six batters he faced; four by strikeout. And Team USA got things going in the fourth after Panerati exited for Marco Grifantini. The first batter to face Grifantini, Ryan Braun, greeted him with a single and then Mauer promptly doubled him home. But again, Team USA failed to put together a big inning. A ground out by Wright sent Mauer to third base, but Grifantini, who pitches in the domestic Italian League, struck out Giancarlo Stanton and Eric Hosmer to end the threat.
But Grigantini's and Team Italy's luck ran out in the fifth. First Adam Jones walked and scored the tying run on a Brandon Phillips single. After a Joe Mauer walk loaded the bases, David Wright unloaded them with a grand slam to left.
After that, the teams pretty much went through the motions. Italy had no incentive to win this game as they had already qualified for the next round. They spent the rest of the game emptying their bullpen and getting everyone into the game. Team USA turned it over to Ross Detwiler, who got a four-inning save, allowing only one hit. He struck out three and walked one.
The US now faces Canada tomorrow for the eighth and final spot in the second round of the tournament. The winner of the game wins the Phoenix pool and the loser finishes last. The game is at 3 pm Central and Derek Holland will take on Pirates prospect Jameson Taillon.
Puerto Rico vs. Venezuela
Going into the World Baseball Classic, Venezuela had one of the best lineups in the tournament. They had AL MVP Miguel Cabrera and World Series MVP Pablo Sandoval. They had a solid ace in Anibal Sanchez and the single-season saves record holder in Francisco Rodriguez.
Two games later, they're gone.
Puerto Rico kept that powerful lineup in check to defeat Venezuela, 6-2. With the win, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic advanced to the second round and Venezuela was eliminated.
Venezuela got off to a good start behind the strong pitching of Carlos Zambrano (where have I heard that name before?) who retired the first nine Puerto Rico batters in order. Meanwhile, Venezuela got to Puerto Rico starter Nelson Figueroa in the third inning, when Omar Infante doubled and Marco Scutaro singled him home with one out. When Figueroa hit Asdrubal Cabrera with a pitch, that brought Miguel Cabrera to the plate with two men on and only one out. But Figueroa got Cabrera to pop out.
The escape was short-lived, however, as Pablo Sandoval came to the plate and doubled home Scutaro for a 2-0 lead. But Cabrera also tried to score on the play and was thrown out at the plate on a perfect relay throw by first baseman Martin Maldonado, ending the threat and the inning.
If Cubs fans can remember that dominating Zambrano from the first three innings, they can also remember the Big Z who showed up in the fourth inning. He loaded the bases on a double and two walks, all the time barking at the umpire and showing a general lack of composure on the mound. Zambrano exited for Enrique Gonzalez, who promptly gave up a two-run single to the first batter he faced, Mike Aviles.
Henderson Alvarez took over for Gonzalez in the top of the fourth for Venezuela with the score still tied. Alvarez walked the lead-off hitter Maldonado, who was bunted over to second base. Angel Pagan knocked Maldonado home with a two-out single, giving the hosts a 3-2 lead they would never relinquish.
Puerto Rico reliever Giovanni Soto, who then relieved Figueroa, held Venezuela without a hit for three no-hit innings, although he did walk two.
Puerto Rico put the game out of reach with a three-run eighth inning. Alvarez hit Alex Rios to start the inning and then was pulled after Carlos Beltran singled, putting two on and no outs. Juan Rincon then relieved Alvarez and, after a Yadier Molina single loaded up the bases, allowed three runs to score on a sacrifice fly by Aviles and a two-run double by Luis Figueroa.
Venezuela tried to make a game of it in the ninth when Carlos Gonzalez and Salvador Perez hit back-to-back doubles off of J.C. Romero. But Fernando Cabrera entered the game and picked up the save by striking out Miguel Montero and getting Omar Infante to pop up.
Spain will play Venezuela today, but the game is just for pride at this point, and possibly to avoid qualifying in 2017. Puerto Rico will play the Dominican Republic, but that game is just for seeding.