Monday, March 09, 2009

WBC Update #1

The Toronto bracket of the 2009 World Baseball Classic got off to an exciting start on Saturday with the opening game between the USA and Canada. What looked like a pretty one-sided pitching matchup between 2007 NL Cy Young winner Jake Peavy and Mike Johnson turned out not to be, as Johnson performed commendably, and Canada led 2-1 after three innings.

Canada’s staff ace looked impressive in the first inning, as he yielded a one-out double to Derek Jeter and fell behind Chipper Jones 3-0, before coming back and striking out both Jones and Team USA cleanup hitter David Wright. His luck ran out in the 4th, however, as he gave up a leadoff home run to Kevin Youkilis and—two batters later—a two-run homer to Brian McCann. The Americans later built a 6-3 lead after six innings, powered by another two-run homer, this time from Adam Dunn.

Canada wasn’t going down that easily, though, as they rallied with single runs in the 7th and then in the 9th. But, J.J. Putz got Jason Bay to fly out to right, with Joey Votto—following his RBI double that capped a 4-for-5 performance, including a solo homer off of Peavy in the 3rd—representing the tying run at second base.

In Saturday’s night cap, Italy gave Venezuela a surprisingly tough battle in a game that remained scoreless until a 4-run Venezuela rally in the bottom of the 5th. By that point, Italy had squandered several opportunities, as they hit Venezuela starter Carlos Silva hard, but had nothing to show for the seven hits and one walk he gave up in his four innings of work.

Italy’s Mark DeFelice turned in the strongest performance of any starting pitcher in the bracket so far, holding Venezuela scoreless—on three hits and no walks—through four innings. But, it was Italy’s bullpen that proved to be their undoing—in addition to their lack of timely hitting—as relievers Jason Grilli and Lenny DiNardo were the victims of Venezuela’s 5th inning rally. Another run allowed by the Italians pen in the 7th and two more in the 8th added to the deficit, and Venezuela came away with a 7-0 victory.

Venezuela’s key offensive performances came from Melvin Mora, who went 2-for-4 with a homer and three RBI, and Jose Lopez’s 3-for-3 with a walk and two runs scored. Carlos Guillen also added a solo homer and Bobby Abreu two hits and two RBI for the victors. Felix Hernandez was the star, though, throwing four innings of one-hit ball in relief of Silva, while striking out four and walking two.

Sunday night’s winners bracket matchup between the USA and Venezuela was certainly the most highly anticipated showdown of all, but the Americans put on an offensive display in a 15-6 rout. The game clearly exposed the Venezuelans major weakness as their bullpen. Starter Armando Galarraga left after four innings with a 3-2 lead, but relievers Victor Zambrano, Carlos Vasquez and Yoel Hernandez were roughed up in an 8-run Team USA 6th inning rally that was keyed by Chris Ianetta’s three-run double, Dustin Pedroia’s two-run double and Youkilis’ two-run homer. Interestingly enough, the inning had started with Youkilis reaching first on a strikeout and wild pitch, as he chased a curve in the dirt that then deflected off the catcher and over the backstop.

Another highlight of the USA's impressive rally was the following photo of Derek Jeter giving a high-five to Pedroia, which also provides a pretty good indication of how good our seats are for the games:

Mark DeRosa was also a key offensive performer for the USA, contributing a two-run double, bases-loaded walk and sacrifice fly, for a total of four RBI. Adam Dunn and Ryan Braun also added solo homers in the 7th and 9th innings, respectively. Team USA’s bullpen wasn’t dominating, but turned in an important collective performance, allowing three runs over the final 5 1/3 innings, after starter Roy Oswalt struggled, giving up three in 3 2/3 IP.

This weekend’s two victories mean that Team USA has assured that they will advance to the tournament’s next round in Miami. Tonight’s matchup is between the losers of Saturday’s game—Canada and Italy—for the right to take on Venezuela on Tuesday. The winner of Tuesday’s matchup will play the USA in the finals of the Toronto bracket on Wednesday, but the game will be virtually meaningless, as both teams will have already clinched a berth in Miami.

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