By Larry Millson
TORONTO—Regardless of the result, both teams were going to Miami for the second round of the World Baseball Classic, but from a confidence standpoint it probably meant more to Team Venezuela.
And with second-round seedings and pride at stake, Team Venezuela defeated Team USA 5-3 before a crowd of 12,358 at Rogers Centre on Wednesday to take first place in Pool C with a 3-1 record.
It means that Venezuela plays the Netherlands, which twice upset and ousted the Dominican Republic from Pool D, in their first game at Dolphins Stadium. Team USA plays Puerto Rico, which won Pool D by defeating the Netherlands 5-0 on Wednesday.
"I don’t think any of us like to lose,” Team USA manager Davey Johnson said. “I mean, it was more of a day that I think everybody was feeling like it’s a day to get some work in, get some at-bats and get some innings in. It’s not a big deal—win or lose, we’ve still got to win two games in Miami. It doesn’t matter whether we’re the one seed or the two seed.”
The Venezuelans played as if it meant something after losing 15-6 to Team USA on Sunday. When catcher Henry Blanco threw our Derek Jeter at second on an attempted double steal in the ninth, he emoted. When Francisco Rodriguez struck out Kevin Youkilis to end the game, the Venezuelan team ran onto the field in celebration.
“Everybody wants to win these games, regardless of whether this has any bearing on the second round,“ said Derek Jeter, who was Team USA‘s DH. “You want to play well and you want to perform well. So that‘s understandable.”
The Venezuelans talked about the confidence that they could take from the game, particularly by their relief pitchers who were hammered by Team USA’s on Sunday.
“I mean, we had to make a statement,” Team Venezuela manager Luis Sojo said. “And we did make a statement. Our bullpen was the question mark throughout the whole tournament and they came through today. And I think that’s very important . . . it showed that yes, they can pitch.”
“It had a little bit of a different feel, you know, than the first two games to be honest with you,” Jeter said. “But you know, you are still trying to win. You are still trying to get your work in, you know.”
Victor Zambrano, who took the loss in relief on Sunday, was much better on Wednesday as a starter and allowed one run, three hits and two walks in 3 2/3 innings.
“Basically, we went with our game plan and we tried to use the fastball and the changeup just to get a strike and the slider,” Zambrano said. “When I played against them (Sunday), I was having a lot of trouble getting to the strike zone with a slider.”
Jan Granado took over Zambrano to pick up the win for allowing one hit in two-thirds of an inning.
Team USA had two days off before the second meeting with Venezuela, which had only Monday off and because of Sunday‘s loss had to play four games.
“We had to play two games real quick and then we had two days off,” Johnson said. “That doesn’t do much for my bullpen. You know, the second day was a little tough.”
Lefthander Ted Lilly allowed one run and three hits in three innings and made 36 pitches as the U.S. starter.
“I know Teddy would like to go more but we had a bunch of guys that needed work,” Johnson said.
LaTroy Hawkins and John Grabow pitched the fourth and righthander Jeremy Guthrie took over in a 1-1 game in the fifth and gave up seven hits and four runs in two innings.
Henry Blanco who gave Venezuela a 1-0 lead with a homer in the third, scored the go-ahead run in the fifth when his double was followed by Gerardo Blanco’s triple. Venezuela also had 1 1/3 innings of runless relief from Ivan Blanco.
Venezuela took a 4-1 lead in the sixth on a two-run single by Marco Scutaro who calls Rogers Centre home with the Blue Jays. Cesar Izturis doubled and scored on Melvin Mora’s single in the seventh.
Team USA moved to within 5-3 on Chris Iannetta’s mammoth two-run homer in the eighth against Orber Moreno.
A leadoff walk and a one-out error by third baseman Luis Maza on Jeter’s grounder put Team USA in position to pull out the game but Jeter was caught stealing at second when Jimmy Rollins took third on the attempted double steal.
“In my situation the runner at third wasn’t as important,” Henry Blanco said. “If he doesn’t make a perfect throw, he’s in there,” Johnson said.
“Yeah, it was a perfect throw,” Jeter said. “But I can‘t get thrown out in that situation, not the tying run. We tried to be aggressive. I had an idea that Jimmy’s going to try to go.”