“That was the closest 9-4 ballgame I’ve ever seen,” said USA Baseball CEO Paul Seiler, just minutes after I ran into him behind the USA dugout, following the United States’ critical, do-or-die victory over Canada this afternoon at Chase Field in Phoenix.
He couldn’t have summed it up much better. It absolutely was a nailbiter. It always is, when Team USA and Canada meet on the diamond (as described in my book Miracle on Grass, when Canada shocked Team USA in the very first game of the 1999 Pan Ams, 7-6 in extra innings).
Only when Team USA’s Eric Hosmer ripped a bases-clearing double in the top of the ninth, with Team USA ahead 6-4, did anyone in the USA dugout feel comfortable.
The Americans were literally six outs from being ELIMINATED from this World Baseball Classic. They trailed Canada 3-2, going to the 8th inning. Yes, it would have been a natural disaster had Team USA lost this game. MLB was counting on them for higher TV ratings and higher ticket revenues for the next round in Miami, and possibly the finals in San Francisco.
When Canada’s Michael Saunders launched a 2-run homer in the second inning of USA starter Derek Holland, we were already off to a bad start. But the Americans battled back and tied it 2-2 in the 4th. Canada went back ahead 3-2 on a base hit by Adam Loewen, and it stayed that way until the critical 8th. That’s when Orioles star Adam Jones came up with the biggest hit of the event so far for Team USA, drilling a one out, two-run double into the left-center gap off Canadian reliever Jim Henderson. It gave Team USA a 4-3 lead.
But, just as they always do (see my column here that I wrote prior to the WBC starting): Canada fought right back, and had cut the lead to 5-4, with the bases loaded and two outs. Joe Torre went to relief pitcher Steve Cishek, to face Canadian pinch hitter Tim Smith. In what was the game’s most critical moment, Cishek got Smith to ground out to second base, securing the 5-4 lead.
The Americans then blew it open with four runs in the 9th, and all of the Canadian fans began to gather their things and walk out up the aisles and out of the stadium, as soon as Hosmer’s double cleared the bases. Craig Kimbrel came on to secure the final three outs, for Team USA.
It was a rousing way for Pool D to come to an end, and this will be remembered for the raucous fight between the two teams that failed to advance: Mexico & Canada, along with the surprising Italian team, that beat both of those squads to join the Americans in Miami.
Incredibly, Team USA came ever so close to being knocked out of the event and finishing in last place in the pool. Instead, they won Pool D outright and will meet the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Italy later this week in Florida.
I’m excited that they have advanced, but – if they wait as long as they did here in Phoenix to put their game faces on – I’m afraid they might not make it to the finals in San Francisco. The DR is my favorite to win the next round, and it will be up to the other three teams to decide which one grabs the second flight to California. Should be fun to watch. I will blog again during the second round. That’s all from here in Phoenix.
Here are some photos from today’s action between Team USA & Canada (use the navigation arrows to view all seven images):
David Fanucchi is the author of “Miracle on Grass” – How Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda led Team USA to a shocking upset over Cuba, capturing the only Olympic gold medal in USA Baseball history. He was the official Team USA Press Officer for both the 2000 USA Baseball Olympic Team and the 2006 USA World Baseball Classic Team. More information about Fanucchi and Miracle on Grass can be found on his website at www.davidfanucchi.com. Follow him on Twitter @miracleongrass.