Italy eliminates Canada from Baseball Classic
After nearly pulling off a major upset over the weekend, Canada fell victim to perhaps an even bigger one Monday in the World Baseball Classic.
Chris Denorfia went 4-for-4 with three doubles, drove in two runs and scored two more as lightly regarded Italy pulled off a 6-2 shocker Monday in Toronto, eliminating the Canadians from the tournament.
Justin Morneau went 4-for-5, and Jason Bay was 2-for-2 with a pair of walks and two runs batted in for Canada, which is done after losing its first two games in the double-knockout format.
Canada dropped a 6-5 thriller to the U.S. on Saturday in Toronto in front of more than 42,000 fans, but couldn't seem to recapture that same energy before Monday's sparse gathering of 12,411 at the domed home stadium of the Toronto Blue Jays.
"Needless to say, I think everyone in that locker room's very disappointed," said Canada manager Ernie Whitt, whose team stranded a whopping 22 baserunners. "I think this is one of the toughest losses that I've been associated with, with Team Canada.
"In retrospect, you have to tip your hat to Team Italy. They shut down a very powerful offensive team. And, you know, we definitely expected to score more than two runs."
Weak arms doom Canada
Italy tagged Canadian starter Vince Perkins for three runs over two-plus innings, and opened up a 4-0 lead behind their own Dan Serafini that proved insurmountable.
The Italians, who lost their Pool C opener 7-0 to Venezuela, face a rematch on Tuesday with a spot in the second round on the line.
The U.S. clinched its ticket to Miami by thumping Venezuela 15-6 on Sunday.
"When we get a victory like this, you always hope that it's going to be an energy booster for the Italian baseball back home," said Italy manager Marco Mazzieri.
Though Canada boasted an impressive batting order featuring major league all-stars Morneau, Bay and Russell Martin, plus up-and-coming slugger Joey Votto and veteran Matt Stairs, the pitching staff left much to be desired.
Canada's most recognizable hurler was probably Jesse Crain, a decent but unspectacular reliever with the Minnesota Twins who struck out the final four Italian batters on Monday.
Scott Richmond, a career minor leaguer who had a brief stint with the Blue Jays last season, didn't see any action in the WBC.
Canada will be left to ponder what might have been if star hurlers Rich Harden, Erik Bedard, Jeff Francis and Ryan Dempster had participated. For various reasons, all four opted out.
Denorfia steals the show
The Italian roster is even less intimidating. Only baseball junkies have heard of pitcher Lenny DiNardo, while its best-known hitters are ex-Blue Jay Frank Catalanotto and Nick Punto of the Minnesota Twins.
Denorfia, though, was a revelation on Tuesday. The 28-year-old outfielder, who played 29 games for the Oakland A's last season, got Italy started in the first inning by beating out a bases-loaded chopper to third base to plate the game's first run.
Perkins got out of the inning without any further damage, but the Italians took a two-run lead in the second inning on Davide Dallospedale's RBI single to right.
Perkins got the hook in the third after giving up an leadoff double to Denorfia, and reliever T.J. Burton promptly surrendered a single followed by a sac fly by Alex Liddi that made it 3-0.
Another Denorfia double in the fourth scored Catalanotto to make it 4-0 before Canada finally got on the board in the bottom of the inning.
Votto was once again the catalyst. The Cincinnati Reds slugger, who went 4-for-5 with a homer and a double against the U.S., led off with a double. Morneau and Bay followed suit, the latter bringing home two runs to chase Serafini.
Stubby's last stand?
Reliever Chris Cooper then loaded the bases with a pair of walks, but got out of the jam, fanning Pete Orr and inducing Chris Barnwell to fly out.
Denorfia wasn't about to stand for that. His third double of the night in the seventh off Steve Green put him in position to score on a Liddi double two batters later.
After Christopher Leroux came into the game to pitch, a mental miscue by Barnwell allowed Italy to restore its four-run lead. The shortstop fielded Punto's grounder and tried to go to second base for the last out of the inning, but his throw was way too late to catch Andrea De Santis and Liddi scored to put the Italians up 6-2.
Denorfia — who else — helped ensure that lead stood up in the bottom half of the seventh, making a spectacular diving snag to rob Votto on a shot to right-centre.
Popular two-time Olympian Stubby Clapp came on as a pinch-hitter in the eighth and flew out to Denorfia in centre in what was likely his final at-bat for the national team.
Crain's excellent work — the right-hander struck out all four batters he faced — gave Canada a chance heading into the bottom of the ninth, but Italy's Jason Grilli was up to the task.
The righty punched out pinch-hitter Adam Sterm and got Martin to fly out before issuing a free pass to Votto. But Grilli settled down to retire Morneau for the first time all night, getting the big Twins first baseman to ground out to the smooth-fielding Liddi at third to end the game.
"We came in expecting to win this game. You know, on paper we're suppose to win it. But you don't play the game on paper," Morneau said. "They came out and they made some great plays defensively. They hit the ball all over the place."