Excitement, quickly followed by disappointment.
That would be an accurate description of how two of Canada’s three round-robin games unfolded at the World Baseball Classic. The Canadians, ranked sixth by the International Baseball Federation among 75 member countries, failed to advance to Round 2 for the third consecutive WBC.
In Friday’s tournament opener, Canada answered Italy’s first-inning run with one of their own in the second, but four Italian runners crossed the plate with two out in the third after Scott Mathieson replaced starting pitcher Shawn Hill.
Canada did manage to claw back to within 6-4 on a Michael Saunders two-run single, but manager Ernie Whitt chose to pinch hit Tim Smith for catcher Chris Robinson. Smith, who struck out swinging, was drafted by the New York Mets, Milwaukee and Texas over a four-year period, and hasn’t played above Double-A.
Robinson has played under Whitt for about eight years in international play, including the 2006 WBC, and went on to hit .556 this time around in the tournament.
Another offensive outburst by the Italians in the bottom of the seventh inning, this time off Philadelphia Phillies hopeful Phillippe Aumont, made it 9-4 on the way to a 14-4 victory.
"In a game of baseball, you have to have some shutdown innings, and we weren't able to do that," Whitt told reporters later.
The Canadians would regain some momentum, throttling Mexico 10-3 on Saturday in a game that featured a bench-clearing brawl, to set up Sunday’s must-win game against the United States, which defeated Canada 6-5 at the 2009 WBC in Toronto.
Saunders, who was named the MVP of Pool D after hitting .727 (8-for-11) with a homer and seven runs batted in, put the Canadians ahead 2-0 in the top of the fourth inning. But the U.S. evened matters in its at-bat on two singles, a walk, a throwing error by third baseman Taylor Green and an Adam Jones sacrifice fly.
Canada’s starting pitcher Jameson Taillon turned in a sterling four innings and reliever Dustin Molleken another two before the Canadians regained the lead on Adam Loewen’s run-scoring single in the bottom of the sixth.
Canada failed to add to its lead in the seventh as Cale Iorg (pop out), leadoff hitter Tyson Gillies (ground out) and Green (strikeout) were retired. Gillies was hitless in 14 at-bats overall and combined with Green for just four hits in 28 at-bats. Joey Votto, considered by many to be Canada's best hitter, didn't drive in a run from the third slot in the order and went 2-for-9 with five walks and four strikeouts.
In the eighth inning, the Americans jumped on reliever Jim Henderson for three runs in the eighth inning before Whitt summoned Mathieson to get the final out. The manager then opted to keep Mathieson, who allowed four runs (all earned) on five hits in 1 1/3 innings versus Italy, in the game to start the top of the ninth rather than insert closer John Axford and the U.S. struck for another run.
Axford eventually came on and served up a bases-clearing double to Eric Hosmer in a 9-4 Canadian loss.
"We played a tough game," Saunders said, "but we’re holding our heads high. We came to this [tourney] prepared and we felt we played well. We showed the world Canada is here to stay."
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