Thursday, March 12, 2009

WBC Update #3

Without either Felix Hernandez or Armando Galarraga available, and with Victor Zambrano the starting pitcher for Venezuela—coming off a rough outing in his last appearance versus Team USA—it seemed the pitching matchup for Wednesday night’s Toronto pool finale favored the U.S. team. But, in fact, the Americans’ fourth starter, Jeremy Guthrie, turned out to be the weakest link. After starter Ted Lilly gave up one run in three innings of work, and relievers LaTroy Hawkins and John Grabow combined for a scoreless fourth, Guthrie’s ineffectiveness turned out to be the United States’ downfall. Allowing four runs on seven hits and two walks in two-plus innings of work in a 5-3 loss, Guthrie’s outing was easily the worst of any U.S. pitcher in the Classic so far.

Venezuela rested their regular catcher, Ramon Hernandez, and second baseman, Jose Lopez, and it was their replacements who provided the spark the team needed, both at the plate and in the field. Henry Blanco—filling in for Hernandez at catcher—and Marco Scutaro—starting for Lopez at second base—combined to produce four of their team’s five runs, and both contributed key defensive plays. Blanco’s, though, was the game-changer, as he alertly threw out Derek Jeter on the back end of a double steal in the 9th to thwart a potential US rally.

Neither of Team USA’s stars from Sunday’s victory over Venezuela—Chris Iannetta and Mark DeRosa—started in Wednesday’s game, but Iannetta came off the bench to hit a two-run homer that cut a 5-1 deficit in half and got them back in the game in the 8th. However, an ill-conceived double steal—or base-running mistake by Jeter—and a rare poor at bat by Kevin Youkilis spoiled a potential 9th inning rally against Venezuela closer Francisco Rodriguez. These outcomes also prevented an interesting matchup between K-Rod and his new teammate David Wright, who was in the on-deck circle when Youkilis struck out to end the game.

The win for Venezuela makes them the winner of the Toronto pool, although in a true double-elimination tournament the two would square off for one more game to decide the champion. But, that’s basically a moot point, as both teams earned a berth in the next round. Venezuela will take on the Classic’s dark horse, the Netherlands, while Team USA draws a matchup with the winner of the San Juan pool, Puerto Rico.

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