Emotionally charged after a brutal loss and on the edge of elimination against a dangerous opponent, Canada needed to scrap with bat and fist to stay alive at the World Baseball Classic.
Justin Morneau and Michael Saunders were unbeatable at the plate, starting pitcher Chris Leroux protected the lead with four strikeouts in three innings, and Canada battered Mexico 10-3 on Saturday.
The game ended in a bench-clearing brawl between both teams after Canada had a six-run lead in the ninth inning but went for more when Canadian catcher Chris Robinson laid down a bunt single.
Mexico third baseman Luis Cruz gestured to pitcher Arnold Leon to throw at the next Canadian batter. Leon responded in kind, twice missing Rene Tosoni before hitting the Toronto native and sparking the fight that included several Canadian players throwing punches.
The pro-Mexico crowd of 19,581 at Chase Field also got involved, with a fan hitting Canadian pitching coach Denis Boucher in the head with a water bottle and another throwing a ball at first base coach Larry Walker as the ballpark announcer pleaded for civility.
"It was fun," said Leroux. "Stuff like that always brings people together, teams together. It is what it is. It's a baseball brawl. Media loves it. Fans love it. That's it."
Eager to move on from a humiliating 14-4 loss to Italy on Friday that ended after eight innings due to a 10-run mercy rule, and in need of runs in case of a tiebreaker, Canada (1-1) came out swinging during a four-run first inning.
'Stuff like that always brings people together, teams together. It is what it is. It's a baseball brawl. Media loves it. Fans love it. That's it.'—Canada pitcher Chris Leroux
The team was energized by offensive clinics put on by Morneau and Saunders. Each drove in three runs, with Morneau finishing the game 4-for-5 and Saunders 4-for-4 with a walk.
Leroux, a Pittsburgh Pirates reliever who starts in triple-A, said the game will help Canada forget an awful start to the tournament.
"Oh absolutely. I mean I can't tell you how many texts and messages that I've gotten from the fans," said Leroux, who allowed just one unearned run and had four strikeouts through three innings. "I don't even think they remember our loss from yesterday, and that's awesome. Nobody wants to remember yesterday.
"[Saturday is] definitely a game that a lot of people are going to remember, not just the guys in the dugout."
Now Canada faces a win-or-go-home game against the United States (1-1), which beat Italy 6-2 later Saturday. That result knocked Mexico (1-2) out of contention.
The winner of Sunday's game will join Italy (2-1) in Miami for next week's second round.
Manager Ernie Whitt, who called for the tiebreaker rule to be reviewed, said the victory means Canada can focus on a crucial game against the Americans. It's been a turbulent tournament for Canada, which is hoping to advance to the second round for the first time.
"Game's over. This game's over ...," said Whitt. "It's an unfortunate incident that happened today. We didn't intend for it to happen. It happened. We move on. We knew going into today that basically we controlled our destiny. We had to win today. Now we have to win tomorrow."
Canada's offence exploded in the top of the first inning on five consecutive hits off Milwaukee Brewers starter Marco Estrada.
Morneau hit a one-run double, then followed Joey Votto home on Saunders' two-run single. Saunders stole second uncontested, moved to third on a wild pitch, then scored on an RBI single from Robinson to give Canada an early 4-0 lead.
Cherry liked what he saw
Don Cherry enjoyed Canada's 10-3 win over Mexico Saturday at the World Baseball Classic.
But it didn't only have to do with the scoreboard.
The Coach's Corner commentator used part of his Hockey Night in Canada segment Saturday night to talk about the bench-clearing brawl between the two baseball teams.
"A left hander, he gets him down. ... Good Canadian boys, we gotta beat the Americans tomorrow," he said when describing some of the brawl.
Mexico shaved a run off Canada's lead in the bottom of the inning on a surprising error by Votto. An Adrian Gonzalez single should have been a routine double play, but Votto threw high to second base allowing Eduardo Arredondo to score.
Mexico was provided an opening after Leroux, who was on the mound for 64 of the 65-pitch limit for starters at the tournament, was replaced by Andrew Albers in the fourth inning.
Albers surrendered two Mexican runs on four straight hits, and things could have gotten out of hand if not for some defensive guts from Robinson.
First the catcher was hit by an Albers pitch to the jock strap and needed a breather before going back to the plate. Then a Sebastian Valle single sent Karim Garcia barrelling toward home plate. Robinson caught the relay and was hammered to the ground by Garcia but made the out.
"The play at the plate, that's baseball," said Robinson. "People disagree with it, but our job — I signed up to catch at some point and knowing that, and just unfortunately that it was the pitch after getting hit in the balls."
Second baseman Pete Orr put Canada ahead 5-3 in the sixth, and one inning later Morneau's RBI double gave Canada a three-run lead. Saunders was walked and Robinson, who took a beating during the game, was hit by a pitch to load the bases. That set up a pinch-hit single by Jimmy Van Ostrand to score Morneau and extend Canada's lead to 7-3.
Morneau and Saunders were at it again in the eighth. Morneau's RBI single scored Taylor Green, who had three hits and a walk for Canada, and Saunders followed with an RBI single of his own to score Votto for a 9-3 lead.
Following the fight in the ninth, Cale Iorg hit a sac fly to score Robinson and cap Canada's scoring.
As Canada's attention turns to the United States, three players may not be around to play in the pivotal game.
Tosoni, Orr and pitcher Jay Johnson were each ejected after the fight and face possible suspensions. Mexico, which didn't make players available after the game, had Leon, Alfredo Aceves, Oliver Perez and Eduardo Arredondo tossed from the dugout.
"We do what we have to win a ball game," said Whitt. "We protect ourselves, we protect the players, we protect our coaches. And whatever it takes, we'll do ... with pride and passion, and we'll do whatever it take to win.
"And we'll fight for each other."