Monday, March 11, 2013

Eric Hosmer, Adam Jones lead Team USA past Canada, move up in World Baseball Classic

Team USA's Adam Jones celebrates after scoring a
PHOENIX -- In terms of a national crisis, Team USA failing to survive the first round of the World Baseball Classic wouldn't quite be up there with solving the budget deficit or taking away Dennis Rodman's passport.
But for those wearing the uniform during Sunday's elimination game against Canada, the possibility of returning to their spring training homes was scary enough. And it was six outs away from happening.
"I would have been embarrassed," Brandon Phillips said. "Somebody had to step up. I wasn't ready to go back to Goodyear because there ain't nothing in Goodyear. I'd rather go to Miami. Somebody had to do it."
Goodyear, Ariz., is the Cactus League site shared by the Reds and Indians. Thanks to Adam Jones and a late-inning barrage, neither Cincinnati's Phillips nor anyone else on the U.S. squad has to worry about going back anytime soon.
Jones erased Canada's 3-2 lead with a two-run double in the eighth inning and Eric Hosmer, the injury replacement for Mark Teixeira, added a three-run double in the ninth as Team USA advanced to the round of eight with a 9-4 win at Chase Field.
"Yeah, it's a relief," said David Wright, who was on base four times, scored three runs and went 5-for-11 with five RBIs in the first round. "That first loss [to Mexico] might have been the best thing that happened because I think it made us realize we have a target on our backs. We can't just show up and win three games."
Team USA now travels to Miami, where they open tomorrow at Marlins Park against Puerto Rico, which lost to the Dominican Republic, 4-2, Sunday night.
Wright spoke of exhaling after making it through this weekend, but that's only half of the story. If Wright's team had lost and Canada had advanced, the U.S. might have been required to play an extra qualifying round in November 2016 just to gain entry into the 2017 WBC.
Of course, the rules could always change between now and then -- it is Bud Selig's baby, after all -- but as Phillips said, that would have been, um, humiliating.
"I heard something about it," Wright said. "But I didn't think too much of it because I was planning on winning. I wasn't thinking about what would happen if we were losing, so . . . "
Still, the U.S. had to play catch-up for most of the afternoon. Canada took a 2-0 lead in the second inning on Michael Saunders' two-run homer off Derek Holland. Saunders, who edged Wright for the MVP of Pool D, went 8-for-11 over the weekend with three doubles, a home run and seven RBIs.
Jones' sacrifice fly drove in Wright to tie it at 2 in the fourth, but Adam Loewen's two-out single in the sixth put Canada in front and made for some anxious moments in the U.S. dugout. "They had us on the ropes," Phillips said. "But the thing is, good teams come together and get the job done regardless of the situation."
The U.S. bailed out Joe Torre, who left himself vulnerable by choosing to start Shane Victorino over Giancarlo Stanton and playing Ben Zobrist in right to let Ryan Braun DH -- all in an effort to make sure everyone played a fair amount. That looked like a costly mistake when Victorino stranded five in his first three at-bats, but he rescued Torre in the eighth.
With the U.S. holding a 4-3 lead after Jones' double, and two outs, the situation begged for Stanton to pinch hit. But Torre stayed with Victorino, who slapped the first pitch to leftfield for an insurance run. A four-run landslide followed in the ninth and Craig Kimbrel, pumping 96-mph fastballs, struck out two to seal the win.
"You can relax a little bit, enjoy tonight," Wright said before taking the red-eye to Miami, "but it's only going to get tougher from here."

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