U.S. Comeback Falls Short Against Canada

PHOENIX–Make no mistake, Chase Utley posed. When the Team USA
second baseman launched a shot deep into the Phoenix evening, he joined
the rest of Chase Field in assuming that his imminent three-run home
run would complete a stunning comeback and save Team USA from one of
the most shocking upsets in international baseball history. Utley
flipped his bat and began his trot, figuring that the world had
regained its order.

It didn’t. Canadian center fielder Adam
Stern, punctuating the best single-game performance in this young World
Baseball Classic, jumped against the fence to snare Utley’s drive and
the hopes of Team USA along with it. The eighth inning ended, Canada
held on to its 8-6 lead, and won a game that will determine the outcome
of Pool B less than bruise 50 states worth of egos.

“It’s a
very quiet locker room right now,” U.S. manager Buck Martinez said.
“Everyone feels like they got kicked in the stomach.”

Canada
scored in each of the first five innings, mounting an 8-0 lead behind
lefty starter Adam Loewen. Team USA erupted for six runs off two
relievers in the bottom of the fifth–capped by a 448-foot grand slam
by Jason Varitek–but never scored again, stunning the crowd of 16,993
at Chase Field.

“I just didn’t do anything right today,”
said U.S. starter Dontrelle Willis, who gave up five runs in 2 2/3
innings. “Just one of those games where you just tip your hat to the
other opposing team.”

Despite the outcome, both Canada (2-0)
and the United States (1-1) can either advance to the second round or
still be eliminated, depending on the outcome of other games. But
Canada can determine its own fate: A win against Mexico in Thursday’s
game (8 p.m. ET) behind starter Jeff Francis will make it the Pool B
winner.

If Canada loses, given Mexico’s 10-4 win over South
Africa Wednesday night–and assuming a probable Team USA win over South
Africa Friday behind ace Roger Clemens–Canada, Mexico and Team USA
would all finish 2-1 and face a complicated tie-breaking system, one
that will separate teams first by fewest runs allowed in games among
each other.

Mexico beating Canada while scoring three runs
or more would send Mexico and the United States advancing to the second
round in Anaheim this Sunday. Mexico beating Canada while scoring two
runs or less would advance Mexico and Canada, with the United States
eliminated.

Assuming that win over South Africa isn’t
exactly what Team USA is doing at the moment, though, Clemens or not.
Wednesday’s loss to Canada showed what everyone in baseball knows: That
single games can be as dangerous as licking lawnmower blades.

“I
think one thing we have learned quickly in this international play is
anything can happen,” Martinez said. “You put your flag on your chest
and you go out there and play, and people get fueled by that. You see
exceptional things being done by very competitive people.”

No
one was more exceptional Wednesday than Stern, who is expected to stick
with the Red Sox as a fifth outfielder this spring. The former Nebraska
star hit an RBI triple, two-run single and solo, inside-the-park home
run in the first five innings. He sparkled defensively as well, nabbing
a sinking line drive to end the sixth inning and adding his
against-the-wall grab against Utley to end the eighth.

“Any
win in this tournament is huge, and coming against the USA, they have
the most talent out there. I won’t lie,” Stern said. “But that’s why
you play these games, and it’s a time of year where one game, you don’t
know what’s going to happen. Over 162, I don’t know if we’d fare so
hot. One game you’ve got to go out there and bust it. That’s what we
did.”

Stern, who was so proud to have played for Canada in
the 2004 Olympics that he tattooed a maple leaf and the Olympic rings
above his heart, said that his American Red Sox teammates had teased
him last week about how Canada would lose so fast in the WBC that he
would barely miss any spring-training games. “I’ll have something to
say about that,” he recalled telling them with a vengeful smile.

Even
though he and his teammates said it loudly, and Canada came away with
what instantly was called the country’s biggest win ever in
international competition, the celebration would have to wait.

“I
think we’re going to let this marinate for a few hours, but after that
we have to get ready for Mexico,” Stern said. “Nothing’s guaranteed
right now. Talk to us after tomorrow and we’ll have something to say.”

International | #2006 #International Affairs #World Baseball Classic

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