PHOENIX – Good teams usually take advantage of mistakes and then, like an avalanche, bury the opposition.
After a marginal start in their opener of the World Baseball Classic, Team USA quickly fell behind in the first inning and squandered a bases-loaded situation in the bottom of the opening frame. In the words of Alfred E. Neuman, “what, me worry?”
As the sluggish start turned into that avalanche, Team USA eventually gained separation and defeated Great Britain, 6-2 before 39,650 in Chase field. Given the short duration and nature of this tournament and the caliber of competition, the intensity and emotion increases dramatically. Plus, add the energy of a near 40,000 crowd in your home country and its implications are magnified. Playoff atmosphere was the consensus of players from Team USA.
“This game was pretty close to playoff baseball as it gets,” said righthander Adam Wainwright, who gained the victory. “It was the most exciting game I’ve pitched in a long time. The crowd was rocking early on, and we had the USA chant going. This was a special day for me and our team.”
Given the amount of talent, the expectation as reigning WBC champion, and playing in their home country, manager Mark De Rosa calmly said before the game, “they’re ready.”
The fear is allowing the emotion to clearly drive the nature of the game. Players, said first baseman Paul Goldschmidt afterward, have their routines and the temptation to jump out of the routine for something greater can be detrimental.
“For me, it’s not to get too excited in the moment,” Goldschmidt said. “Everyone wants to get that big hit and win the game. I think it’s about more, from an offensive side, is controlling your emotions and not getting too revved up. That way, you tend to chase pitches out of the zone. Try and use that energy for focus and not to take your intensity up. The intensity level is already there and use the crowd and players to make sure you are focused.”
Despite falling behind early on a first-inning home run from Tracye Thompson, team USA utilized a critical error to their advantage.
With one out in the third, Great Britain shortstop Darnell Sweeny threw wide to first on a grounder from Goldschmidt. That followed a run-producing double from Nolan Arenado and a run-producing single from Kyle Tucker. Then, Kyle Schwarber added a three-run blast over the right field fence with two out in the fourth and this one was in the history books.
From that point, the bullpen of Jason Adam, Kyle Freeland, and David Bednar slammed the door. Over the final seven innings, Team USA relievers allowed one run, five hits, and only five base runners.
In the afternoon opener … An error by Mexico’s shortstop Alan Trejo allowed Jorge Alfaro to score in the 10th inning and that gave Columbia a 5-4 win over Mexico before 28,497 in Chase Field.
By rule, Columbia placed a runner at second to start the 10th. Alfaro moved to third on a single and scored the winning run. Reliever Guillermo Zuniga, whose fast ball reached 100 miles per hour on many pitchers, recorded a 1-2-3 bottom of the 10th to gain the save.
“There’s a great feeling on our clubhouse,” said Jolbert Cabrera, the Columbia manager. “They work their hearts out and that’s who we are.”
Tossing leather – One of the most spectacular plays of the entire tournament turned by third baseman Gio Urshela of Columbia. In the Mexico second, second baseman Luis Urias smashed a ground heading down the leftfield line. Urshela speared the ball in foul territory behind the bag, spun and in the mid-air, and threw a strike to first for the out.
Next … In game two of the tournament against Mexico on Sunday night, Team USA manager Mark De Rosa selected right-hander Nick Martinez (4-4 with San Diego last season) to start. Before game one, Martinez told reporters he is on track for the limit of 65 pitches for any pitcher in the first round of the tournament.
“This is like the middle of spring training, so I’m stretched out,” Martinez said. “I know there are pitch limits but this will not impact or influence my preparation.”