Four more WBC games were played Sunday; two for high stakes and two for pride. Team USA avoided embarrassment with a late rally against Canada. Japan hit six home runs to keep their quest for three straight WBC titles alive.
Canada had this coming to them since 1812. Also, if Japan can call themselves "Samurai Japan," then I think Team USA needs to go by "Cowboy USA." Then we can just do a remake of Japan's success, only with a bigger budget and bigger stars.
United States vs. Canada
In a win-or-go-home game for both team, the United States scored three runs in the eighth inning and four in the ninth to defeat Canada, 9-4. With the win, the United States advanced to the second round of the World Baseball Classic.
Team USA manager Joe Torre went with lefty Derek Holland to face the overwhelmingly left-handed Canadian line-up. But the moved looked to backfire when Michael Saunders crushed a hanging breaking ball into the right field bullpen to give Team Canada a 2-0 lead in the second inning.
Holland would settle down after that, and he exited after five innings, allowing only the two runs on four hits. He walked one and struck out four.
Meanwhile, Jameson Taillon demonstrated why he's considered one of the top prospects in baseball. The Pirates minor leaguer stranded runners in scoring position in both of the first two innings and retired the side in order in the third.
Joe Mauer singled off of Taillon to lead off the fourth inning, followed by a walk to David Wright to put two on with no outs. As has been his strategy throughout the tournament, manager Torre had Ben Zobrist try to bunt the runners over. Canadian third baseman Taylor Green made a bad throw to first base and Mauer scored from second base. The next batter, Adam Jones, tied the game with a sacrifice fly.
The final line for Taillon was two runs, one earned, on four hits over four innings. He walked one and struck out three.
Canada retook the lead in the sixth inning when Adam Loewen hit a two-out single off of Glen Perkins, scoring Joey Votto. Team USA put runners on second and third with one out against Canadian reliever Phillip Aumont, but Aumont got Brandon Phillips to pop out and Ryan Braun to ground out to end the threat.
Team Canada came within five outs of eliminating the United States. Mauer singled and David Wright walked off of Brewers reliever Jimmy Henderson to start the eighth inning, but when Ben Zobrist popped up a bunt for an easy out, it looked like Team USA would squander another chance. But Jones lined a 2-2 pitch into the left-center field gap for a two-run double, giving Team USA a 4-3 lead. One out later, Shane Victorino singled home Jones to give Team USA a 5-3 lead.
David Hernandez came into the game to start the bottom of the eighth inning, but Canada loaded the bases on him with singles by Votto, Saunders and former Cubs minor league catcher Chris Robinson. Hernandez retired Loewen on a ground out for the second out, but Votto scored to make the score 5-4. Hernandez exited for Steve Cishek, who intentionally walked Pete Orr [sic] to load the bases and ended the threat by getting Tim Smith to ground out with the bases loaded.
Team USA blew the game open in the top of the ninth inning by scoring four runs, three of which scored on a bases-loaded double by Eric Hosmer off of John Axford . Craig Kimbrel came in to pitch the ninth inning and retired the side in order, striking out two.
Heath Bell got the win after pitching a perfect seventh inning, striking out one. Henderson took the loss for Team Canada, allowing three runs on three hits and a walk over two-thirds of an inning. He walked one and struck out one.
Morneau, Saunders, Robinson and Loewen were all 2 for 4 for Canada. Morneau doubled and scored on Saunders's home run in the second inning. Zobrist was 3 for 5, Mauer was 2 for 4 and Hosmer was 2 for 4. Adam Jones and Hosmer both had three RBI.
So Team USA advances to the second round and the nation of Canada from now on must spell color, center and defense properly. (UPDATE: It's being reported that part about Canadian spelling changes is not accurate.) They will take on Puerto Rico in the second round in Miami on Tuesday night.
Japan vs. The Kingdom of the Netherlands
Through their first four games of the 2013 World Baseball Classic, Two-time defending champion Team Japan was 3-1, although all four games were close and they had yet to hit a home run. But lead-off hitter Takashi Toritani lined the second pitch of the game into the right field seats and Japan never looked back. Samurai Japan (as the team apparently wants to be called now) hit six home runs as they destroyed Team Netherlands, 16-4 in a game ended after seven innings because of the mercy rule.
With the win, Japan became the first team to qualify for the WBC Final Four in San Francisco.
The surprising effort in the WBC by the Netherlands had been sparked in large part by their stellar defense, but there was no way to defend against all the balls Samurai Japan deposited into the bleacher seats at the Tokyo Dome. Team Netherlands Starter Robbie Cordemans had been the Netherlands's go-to pitcher for big games in all three WBCs, but today he was shelled for six runs off of three home runs before he was pulled for Tom Stuifbergen.
Stuifbergen got the Netherlands out of the second with "only" a 6-0 deficit, but he could not quiet Japan's offense over the next two innings. Japan extended their lead to 7-0 in the third inning on a solo home run by first baseman Atsunori Inaba and then put the game into mercy rule territory in the fourth with a three-run blast by Yoshio Itoi.
Japan scored in all seven innings of this game, tallying a single run in both the fifth and sixth to make the score 12-0. But the Orange didn't just quit, as Wladimir Balentien (who plays for Yakult of NPB now and is a bit of a hero in Japan) cranked a three-run double in the bottom of the sixth to take the game out of mercy-rule territory. Later in the inning, Andruw Jones singled home Balentien for the Netherlands fourth run.
But Team Japan was not to be denied. In the top of the seventh, shortstop Hayato Sakamoto hit a grand slam to get all four runs back and put the game back into mercy rule territory. After the Netherlands failed to score in the bottom of the inning, the game ended and the sold-out crowd went home happy with a 16-4 win.
Japan's pitching was almost as good as their offense, as 2010 Sawamura Award (Japan's Cy Young) winning pitcher Kenta Maeda allowed only one baserunner over five innings, a second inning single to Curt Smith. Maeda struck out nine.
The six Japanese home runs were hit by Toritani, Nobuhiro Matsuda, Seiichi Uchikawa, Inaba, Itoi and Sakamoto.
The Netherlands now takes on Team Cuba, whom they beat earlier in the tournament 6-2, with the winner getting a golden ticket to San Francisco. Japan will then play the winner of that game in a match-up that only matters to determine seeding.
Puerto Rico vs. Dominican Republic
Robinson Cano went 3 for 5 with a home run as the Dominican Republic defeated Puerto Rico, 4-2. The two island nations had both already qualified for the second round and were just playing for pride and seeding. That was enough for both teams and the twenty thousand fans at Hiram Bithorn Stadium, who were loud from beginning to end.
The Dominicans took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Erick Aybar, Cano and Edwin Encarnacion hit three consecutive singles with one out off of Puerto Rican starter Orlando Roman. On the other side, Dominican starter Wandy Rodriguez kept Puerto Rico off the board for the first three innings. But after allowing a single to Alex Rios and getting Carlos Beltran to ground out, Rodriguez was running up against his pitch count and pulled. Mike Aviles greeted new pitcher Lorenzo Barcelo with a two-run home run to give Puerto Rico a 2-1 lead.
The lead was short-lived, however, as Cano led off the top of the fifth with a solo home run to even up the score at two apiece. The Dominican Republic then took the lead in the sixth when Alejandro De Aza doubled home Carlos Santana. They tacked on an insurance run in the seventh inning when, after a one out double by Miguel Tejada put runners on second and third, a Nelson Cruz ground out scored Encarnacion.
Fernando Rodney pitched a perfect ninth inning for the save. He had one strike out.
Barcelo collected the win. He gave up one run on two hits over two innings. He struck out one and walked no one. The loss for Puerto Rico went to Jose Berrios, who pitched in rookie ball for the Twins last year. He gave up two runs on three hits over 1.2 innings. He had a walk and he'll be able to tell his grandchildren about the day he struck out Robinson Cano. (Just leave out the losing part.)
The Dominican Republic finishes group play at 3-0 and will play Italy in the first round of the second round. Puerto Rico plays the United States.
Venezuela vs. Spain
It was probably too late to save any sort of national pride, but Venezuela defeated Spain 11-6 to salvage at least one win in the 2013 WBC.
Both teams had already been eliminated from the tournament and the sports media back in Venezuela were making their feelings known that this was not acceptable. Things started to look even worse when Spain jumped off to a 3-0 lead in the first inning off Venezuelan starter, former Reds reliever Ramon A. Ramirez. After a one-out single, Yunesky Sanchez doubled home Paco Figueroa. When Barbaro Canizares bounced a home run off the foul pole to score two more, Venezuela was in an early hole.
But when Castillo exited after three innings, Venezuela jumped all over two relievers for six runs in the fourth. Six Venezuelans reached base after two were out. Spain cut the lead to 6-5 with two runs in the top of the fifth, but the Venezuelans exploited the thin Spanish bullpen for two runs in the sixth and three in the eighth to put the game way. Miguel Cabrera and Pablo Sandoval hit back-to-back solo home runs as part of that three run eighth inning.
Omar Infante was 3 for 5 with a double for Venezuela. Cabrera also went 3 for 5 with the home run and three RBI. Sandoal was 2 for 4 with a walk and the home run while Carlos Gonzalez went 2 for 3 with two walks.
Yunesky Sanchez was 2 for 4 with the double.
The Netherlands and Cuba play for the second spot in the final four this morning. Or more accurately, have probably already played by the time you're reading this. Then the WBC takes a break until noon CT Tuesday when Italy plays the Dominican Republic. Team USA plays Puerto Rico at 7 pm CT Tuesday night.