Lefthander Andrew Albers (Twins) pitched into the seventh inning, and Jimmy Van Ostrand (Astros) hit a two-run double to give him all the offense he needed as Canada beat Team USA 2-1 to win the gold medal at the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Canada's victory earned the first baseball gold medal for the country at a senior level. Canada's best international finishes previously were bronze medals in the last two World Cups, earlier this month and in 2009.
Albers, who pitched collegiately at Kentucky, was the star, pitching out of the stretch and pounding the zone aggressively throughout. He struck out eight and walked none in 6 2/3 innings, giving up a first-inning run but dominating the rest of the way against an American lineup that put up three double-digit scoring outbursts in the previous four Pan Am contests.
"It was all about getting ahead and staying down in the zone with my fastball," Albers said in a postgame phone interview. "I was able to command the fastball, got ahead and got some great help from my defense, and my catcher Cole Armstrong called a great game. We really got in a rhythm tonight."
Veteran lefty Andy Van Hekken (Astros) matched Albers through the early innings, but lost his way with two outs and none on in the sixth. Chris Robinson (Cubs) singled, followed by an opposite-field single by Tim Smith (Royals). Van Ostrand then lined a double down the right-field line, scoring Robinson easily. Right fielder Brett Carroll (Red Sox) fielded and threw to second, and Smith alertly raced all the way around from first with the go-ahead run.
Van Ostrand's hit made him 9-for-19 in the Pan Ams with four RBIs. Albers meanwhile gave up his first run of the fall after 15 scoreless innings in Panama during the World Cup, but wound up with 17 strikeouts and just three walks in 19 2/3 innings this fall for Team Canada, yielding only one run and picking up three victories. Baseball Canada team director Greg Hamilton and manager Ernie Whitt probably didn't consider Albers their ace when the World Cup started, but they did by Tuesday night, and Albers pitched like one.
"I couldn't ask for a better opportunity," said Albers, who pitched in independent ball in 2010 before signing with the Twins and reaching Double-A in 2011. "Ernie and Greg had confidence in me and that meant a lot."
Albers said he pitched off his fastball but used a changeup early and both his slider and curveball late to keep the Americans off-balance. He retired the U.S. in order in the sixth, but the Americans rallied in the seventh, with Matt Clark (Padres) getting a single and being sacrificed to second. Manager Ernie Young didn't pinch-run for the slow-footed Clark, his top hitter, and wound up regretting it when Chad Tracy (Rangers) singled up the middle. Clark had to stop at third, and Albers struck out Team USA's RBIs leader, Tommy Mendonca (Rangers), in a wild at-bat that included Mendonca taking a called strike when he asked for time but was ignored by the home-plate umpire.
Veteran righthander Scott Richmond (Blue Jays) replaced Albers at that point, and after a wild pitch that advanced pinch-runner Jimmy Gallagher (White Sox) to second, he retired Tuffy Gosewisch (Phillies) on a flyout to right field to end the threat. Richmond got the final seven outs overall to earn the save and earn Canada the gold medal.
"Andrew Albers and Scotty Richmond came through for us tonight and my gosh, it's just a dream come true," said manager Ernie Whitt, the former Blue Jay whose involvement with Baseball Canada began with a third-place finish in the 1999 Pan Ams in Winnipeg. "I'm a U.S. citizen but I feel like I'm a Canadian at heart. I couldn't be more proud of these kids and more proud to have Canada written across my chest."
It was the second victory of the fall for Canada against the United States, following a 6-1 round-robin victory in the World Cup. The American team finished its fall with a 10-6 record, tying for third in the World Cup (though Canada received physical bronze medals when the third-place game in Panama was rained out) and now getting silver in the Pan Ams. The U.S. beat Cuba on Monday to end Cuba's 40-year Pan Am run, but an American team has not won the baseball tournament at the Pan American Games since 1967.
Albers said the Canadians had a chance to celebrate some Tuesday night, but a 5 a.m. bus ride to the airport was waiting at the end of the party. The team will scatter after that, like so many professional teams do at the end of a season.
"That's baseball," he said. "At least we get to enjoy tonight."