BY MIKE BERARDINO
MIAMI GARDENS—Davey Johnson rushed back from his stepson’s wedding for this?
Puerto Rico didn’t just beat Team USA to open the second round of the World Baseball Classic. It laid an 11-1 whipping on the stunned Americans before a largely appreciative crowd of 30,595 at Dolphin Stadium on Saturday night.
"The wedding got over a little early, I had a plane standing by and I wanted to be here," said Johnson, the U.S. manager who was originally expected to remain on the West Coast of Florida while Barry Larkin managed this game. "Maybe I should have stayed longer."
Losing—and to a U.S. territory, no less—would have been bad enough, but the game actually ended in the bottom of the seventh on Mike Aviles’ two-run single off reliever Matt Thornton.
That meant the so-called mercy rule would be invoked on the country that invented the sport.
Asked why he stuck with Thornton with the night slipping away in the seventh, Johnson gave an acerbic answer.
"I don’t usually make pitching changes to avoid the 10-run rule," he said. "It’s always embarrassing to lose."
Suddenly, the U.S. still finds itself in a precarious position as it prepares to face the Netherlands on Sunday night in an elimination game.
Marlins righthander Rick VandenHurk will go for the Dutch, who already own two wins over the heavily favored Dominican Republic in the first round and played well in dropping a 3-1 decision to Venezuela earlier Saturday.
Starting for Team USA will be Astros right-hander Roy Oswalt, who will have to be more effective than Saturday’s starter Jake Peavy if the Americans are to survive. Peavy, who has been dogged by illness and was unable to throw more than one bullpen session since his last start one week earlier, was pounded for six runs on six hits in two innings.
A two-run homer by Felipe Lopez, Puerto Rico’s No. 8 hitter, was the big blow off Peavy in a four-run second.
"I take full responsibility for the boys’ loss tonight," Peavy said. "I just didn’t get it done."
Puerto Rico starter Javier Vazquez limited the U.S. to a Brian McCann single through the first four innings before losing his shutout on McCann’s RBI double in the fifth.
Adam Dunn stumbled rounding third on Ryan Braun’s one-out single in the seventh, and Puerto Rico relievers Javier Lopez and Saul Rivera came on to get McCann (strikeout) and Mark DeRosa (foul pop) to end the threat and preserve a 7-1 edge.
A four-run Puerto Rico seventh ended the game prematurely as Jose Oquendo’s team mobbed Aviles, the Royals shortstop, out by first base.
More bad news for the U.S. came in the hours before Sunday’s game, when starting second baseman and reigning American League Most Valuable Player Dustin Pedroia was placed on the disabled list with a strained oblique muscle.
The Orioles’ Brian Roberts will replace Pedroia on the roster and go right into the lineup for Sunday’s game. DeRosa replaced Pedroia on Saturday and went hitless in three at-bats.
Johnson, who has considerable international managing experience, reminded the media this is a double-elimination tournament and said he expected Team USA to put forth a better effort from here on out.
"I know a lot of guys are not real happy in that clubhouse," Johnson said. "I feel sorry for who we play the next game. I think the guys are going to be up for it."
Mike Berardino is a sports columnist at the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
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