Team USA started slowly at the 2011 World Cup, failing to earn a chance to defend its consecutive gold medals in the '07 and '09 events.
But a strong rally in the second round, including a doubleheader sweep Friday in dramatic fashion, have helped the U.S. salvage a shot at the bronze medal on Saturday. The Americans beat South Korea 3-1 in a game that started at 11 a.m. local time, then rallied from 4-1 down entering the seventh and final inning with a six-run rally—capped by a three-run homer by Jordy Mercer (Pirates)—to beat Venezuela 7-4.
The two victories left the U.S. at 4-3 in the second round and 7-4 overall in the World Cup. While it hasn't been announced officially, the U.S. will play Canada—which won the bronze medal in 2009 and which beat the U.S. 6-1 in this Cup's first round—for bronze on Saturday.
Canada failed to earn a shot at the gold medal with an 8-2 loss to Cuba on Friday, as the Cubans pounced on ex-big leaguer Shawn HIll for five runs in the first three innings.
Meanwhile, the U.S. couldn't get to Venezuelan starter Jose Yepez, a former Cubs farmhand who never got out of A-ball. Yepez pitched in and out of trouble, giving up 10 baserunners but leaving in the top of the seventh inning after a leadoff walk, holding onto a 4-1 lead.
Former Blue Jays farmhand Gabriel Alfaro, who had 7.29 ERA in Atlantic League in 2010, relieved for Venezuela, and the Americans pounced. Another walk and a single by the team's leading hitter, Joe Thurston (Marlins), loaded the bases with one out. Chad Tracy (Rangers)—who was just 2-for-25 in the tournament to that point—singled in a run home to make it 4-2, and Matt Clark (Padres) tied the score with a two-run single that scored Thurston and A.J. Pollock (Diamondbacks).
Mercer then launched a three-run homer on the first pitch, giving the Americans their margin of victory. Scott Patterson (Mariners) relieved winning pitcher Justin Cassel (White Sox), picking up his second save by working a clean inning.
In its first game Friday, the U.S. got five shutout innings from Double-A Texas League pitcher of the year Matt Shoemaker (Angels), who bounced back nicely after giving up seven runs in three innings against the Netherlands last time out. He gave up just two hits, and the Americans got single runs in the first, second and seventh innings, despite 11 strikeouts by South Korean pitchers.
Cuba's victory against Canada, meanwhile, puts the Cubans into position to play for gold against the Netherlands in a rematch of Thursday's 4-1 Dutch victory. The Dutch will try to get an early lead and hand the ball to ace righty Tom Stuifbergen (Twins), who has yet to yield a run in 17 World Cup innings.