PHOENIX, Ariz. - There may be a great deal of pride playing for the United States in this World Baseball Classic.
Yet, honor, purpose and dignity can do only so much. For the Americans, the task ahead is not to wax emotional but execute physically.
After dropping a 5-2 decision to Team Mexico before 44,256 Friday night in Chase Field, the Americans suddenly find themselves in a rather desperate state of affairs.
With two games remaining in the opening round of this 16 team international tournament, the United States could win their two contests but not advance to the second round. That’s because a run differential could be the deciding factor which sends these intrepid players back to their individual spring training camps.
On Saturday, Team USA faces Italy, winners of their two games thus far in the tournament. The Italians are coming off a 14-4 smoking of Team Canada in a game stopped by the 10-run “mercy rule” in the bottom of the eighth inning. Combined with an opening win over Mexico, Team Italy is now 2-0 in this, Pool D, and the only team undefeated in this section.
For the American to have a chance to advance, they must beat Italy and then defeat Canada Sunday afternoon.
“We have to approach (Saturday’s game with Italy) like it’s Game Seven,” said third baseman David Wright, who went 2-for-4 and knocked in one of the two runs. “Look, it was a convincing win for them and it’s not what we did, this game was about what we didn’t do. Teams want to beat us and there’s definitely a target on our backs.”
Despite falling behind early, the United States had opportunities to challenge, but could not execute. From the beginning, Mexico picked up two in the first and, thanks to first baseman Adrian Gonzalez’s two run bomb in the third, broke out to a 4-0 lead.
Team USA starter R. A. Dickey from the Jays indicated his renowned knuckleball was not effective, and simply indicated, “I couldn’t make the big pitches.”
When he exited, Dickey threw 62 pitches but told reporters, “I felt good warming up and was ready to go.”
Perhaps, but struggles in the first inning foreshadowed maladies to follow.
First, Dickey said a knuckler up the zone to centerfielder and lead-off hitter of he game Eduardo Arredondo was ripped into center field for a single, and second baseman Ramiro Pena followed with a double. Arredondo scored on a sacrifice fly and Gonzalez knocked in Pena with ground out.
Quickly, the Americans were in a hole from which there was no extrication.
Now, Team USA needs to score and pile on the runs. The run differential becomes a critical barometer, and the style is simple.
“Our style has to be scoring runs,” said shortstop Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies. “We plan on going out and scoring. The feeling in our clubhouse is no different than the start of the Mexico game. We know we have the offense and the bats to get it done.”
Now with a 1-1 record in the tournament, Team Mexico can make things interesting. They face Team Canada Saturday afternoon (12:30 p.m.) in Chase Field, and also remains in a position to advance.
“We’re playing the game the right way,” said Gonzalez, who went 1-for-2 with three RBIs Friday night. “But, we know Canada will be tough. They have several major leaguers on their team and it comes down to execution. We just have to go out and do it again.”
Simply, the condition for the United States is critical and nearly on life support. Overall, there’s there is still apprehension.
“This is a post-season approach,” said USA manager Joe Torre. “You have to think about winning every day. There’s too much heart and there’s too much class and too much ability (in the USA clubhouse) for one loss to change who they are and how they’re going to approach it.”
NEXT GAME …
In the Saturday night game, Ryan Vogelsong of the Giants starts for Team USA.
“It really is a dream come true. I'm really excited for (Saturday), Vogelsong said Friday afternoon meeting with the media. “It's right up there for me as far as being in the World Series, being in the All-Star Game. It's something that I dreamed about as a young kid growing up watching the Olympics and tremendous honor to be in this locker room with these guys and put this Team USA jersey on.”
Attendance for Friday’s Mexico-USA game was 44,256, and that it the largest crowd so far in 2013 for the tournament. That includes venues in Fukuoka, Japan, Taichung City, Taiwan, San Juan and Chase Field. Team USA officials announced a walk-up crowd of 8,587 help to boost the count. … On the night, Rollins went 2-for-5 and collected his 12th hit for Team USA over the two World Baseball Classic tours with the U. S. His double in the seventh surpasses current teammate David Wright, who has 11 hits.