U.S. survives Canadian rally at WBC
A repeat upset wasn't in the cards for Canada at the World Baseball Classic.
American slugger Adam Dunn smacked a two-run home run in the sixth inning to lead the U.S. to a thrilling 6-5 victory over Canada on Saturday at the Rogers Centre in Toronto.
Canada defeated the U.S. squad 8-6 in the first round of the last World Baseball tournament three years ago, pulling off one of the biggest upsets in baseball history.
The Americans got their revenge on Saturday, using three home runs in Pool C action to fight off their worthy opponents from the north.
"The mood in the clubhouse was kind of quiet, but it's always quiet when you lose a tight game like that, especially against an opponent you want to beat so much," said Canadian catcher Russell Martin.
"I'm proud of my teammates, we showed a lot of heart out there. We weren't expected to beat these guys and we didn't end up beating them, but we gave them a run for their money."
Catcher Brian McCann and first baseman Kevin Youkilis also homered for the Americans, who are attempting to recover from a disastrous performance in 2006.
"I'd like to have two pitches back," Canadian starting pitcher Mike Johnson, who took the loss, said in reference to the two home-run balls. "They changed the whole ball game."
The Canadians did their nation proud with a gutsy effort in front of 42,314 fans at the stadium.
Votto in the spotlight
Designated hitter and Cincinnati Reds slugger Joey Votto was the star of the day for Canada, going 4-for-5, including a towering home run in the third inning. Votto, who was rocked last season by the sudden death of his father, also added two singles and a double.
Canada faces Italy, which lost to Venezuela 7-0 on Saturday, in a do-or-die game Monday (Vince Perkins is expected to start, with Scott Diamond to follow), while the Americans face Venezuela on Sunday with a berth in the second round in Miami on the line.
Assuming Canada wins Monday, it would play the loser of Sunday's game to decide the second spot in the next stage. That road may very well be easier than having to advance the other way under the new double-knockout system.
There are 16 teams in the tournament, with the top two of each of the four groups advancing to the next round.
Pitcher LaTroy Hawkins earned the win for the Americans on Saturday.
"We owed them a little payback," said U.S. manager Davey Johnson. "You know three years ago, it wasn't that close. All the scoring ended up fairly close. They've got a heck of a lineup.
"I thought our guys did a heck of a job holding them down."
Things looked good early for Canada when Votto delivered a solo home run off Jake Peavy in the top of the third inning, tagging the starter with a second-level shot to right-centre field.
Canada's lead was short-lived as the Americans got to Johnson in the fourth.
Youkilis began the scoring with an opposite-field solo homer to pull the U.S. even. After Johnson walked Dunn, McCann roped a drive over the right-field wall to give the Americans a 4-2 advantage.
Canada closed the gap to one run in the top of the sixth, taking advantage of a Joel Hanrahan wild pitch that brought home Jason Bay.
But Dunn put the game out of reach in the bottom half of the inning, sending a Chris Begg pitch to left-centre for a two-run shot and a 6-3 U.S. lead.
Martin takes Shields deep
Martin wouldn't let Canada go down easy as he cut the Americans' advantage to two runs with a lined shot off Scot Shields in the seventh that barely made it over the left-field wall.
Feeling the energy from their raucous fans, the Canadians nearly fought back in the ninth against closer J.J. Putz.
After a Martin doubled, Votto drove a broken-bat RBI to the gap in right and hustled to second with only one out. Sensing another possible upset in the making, the cheers from the crowd escalated with former American League MVP winner Justin Morneau stepping to the plate.
However, Putz forced the Minnesota Twins first baseman to ground out to short before getting Bay to fly out to right field.
"We never give up," said Canadian manager Ernie Whitt. "And even though we lost today, we know we had to win two games. So we have to win the next two games. That is the bottom line. And we'll come out Monday, whoever we face, and we'll be ready to win."
A combined 12 pitchers took part in the game.
This is due to the fact that pitchers in the first round are limited to a pitch count of 65 but must rest four days if they throw more than 50.
Morneau was presented a plaque honouring him as the Canadian Press male athlete of the year for 2008 as selected by a poll of the country's newspapers and broadcasters.
With files from the Canadian Press