Americans poised to make run at championship title after gaining momentum from Pool C win.
The USA heads into the second round of the World Baseball Classic feeling fortunate to have survived early jitters and a scare from Canada but also confident they are peaking at the right time.
The Americans narrowly advanced out of the first round. Trailing Canada and just six outs away from a last place finish in Pool D, they needed an eighth-inning rally to book their berth in the second round.
Outfielder Adam Jones doubled in the tying and go-ahead runs in the eighth inning, Eric Hosmer hit a three-run double in the ninth and the USA scored seven times in the last two innings to beat Canada 9-4 on Sunday.
So the USA moved on and Canada went home. But for a long while, it didn’t look good for the Americans.
“It would have been embarrassing,” second baseman Brandon Phillips said. “I would have been embarrassed. USA, this is where baseball started and we represent our country.
“I just feel that if we had lost, we didn’t do our job. We have to go out there and try to be the first American team to win the WBC. That is our goal.”
Reigning European champions Italy also advanced out of Pool D while Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic qualified from Pool C.
Pool D winner the USA will play Pool C runner up Puerto Rico in one of two second round games on Tuesday in Miami. Pool C top seed Dominicans will face Italy in the other.
USA manager Joe Torre said on Monday his team’s slow start in the opening round was due to nerves.
“Once Canada beat Mexico, all of a sudden our destiny was in our hands,” Torre said. “I sensed a real lift with this ballclub.
“I thought we may have been pressing because I know I was nervous the first game. It was a lot of anxiety that first game.”
The USA, Italy and Puerto Rico all advanced with 2-1 records while the Dominican Republic was the only team to go undefeated in its three games.
The double elimination format of the second round adds a new dimension from the first round where run differentials were employed to decide any three-way ties in the standings. That was also the reason behind Saturday’s ninth-inning benches-clearing brawl between Canada and Mexico said both managers.
Left-hander Gio Gonzalez will get the start for the USA while Puerto Rico plans to go with right-handed pitcher Mario Santiago Tuesday in Miami. This a homecoming of sorts for Gonzalez who grew up in nearby Hialeah, Florida.
“Puerto Rico, that’s going to be extremely hard,” said Gonzalez. “But we are very confident.”
Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez said they are not intimidated by the American’s star-studded lineup filled with Major League Baseball stars.
“We feel very comfortable with where we are right now,” Rodriguez said.
There is plenty at stake for the winner of Miami’s Pool 2 as they will likely face tournament underdog Netherlands in the semi-finals while the runner-up could have the daunting task of playing two-time defending champion Japan.
“You’re getting the cream of the teams that have gotten through the first round,” Torre said.
As opposed to the round-robin format in the first round, the next round will be double-elimination, meaning the teams to win two games each advance and the teams which lose twice are out.
Japan and Netherlands have already qualified for the semi-finals which takes place Sunday and Monday at San Francisco’s AT&T Park. The final game is March 19 in San Francisco, the home of the 2012 World Series champion Giants.