by Matt Meyers
March 9, 2006
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla.–For the second straight game Italy shot itself in the foot with defensive miscues that led directly to runs for its opponent. But in the end, much like in the Italians’ 6-0 loss to Venezuela Wednesday night, it did not really matter. The Dominican Republic was just too strong, too deep and too good.
While Italy was able to put up a little more of a fight on this afternoon after tagging Dominican starter Odalis Perez (Dodgers) for three runs in three innings, it was ultimately undone by an overpowering effort from Dominican reliever Jorge Sosa (Braves) and a continued power surge by a rejuvenated Adrian Beltre (Mariners) as the Dominicans claimed an 8-3 victory.
And if the prospect of facing the Dominican Republic wasn’t frightening enough for the rest of the field, it got a whole lot scarier for a while with the postgame announcement from manager Manny Acta that Vladimir Guerrero will likely join the Dominican Republic for the rest of the tournament. “It doesn’t matter how good we are now,” Acta said. “A guy like that can make us better. We are not taking anything for granted.”
However, Guerrero told ESPN Deportes in a telephone interview that his situation had not changed and he would not play in the WBC after all. Without him, the Dominican looked plenty good against Italy.
Italy got on the board first in the top of the first when shortstop Tony Giarratano (Tigers) lead off with a double and scored on a single up the middle by left fielder Frank Catalanotto (Blue Jays). The lead would not hold up for long.
Shortstop Jose Reyes (Mets) led off with a single off Italy starter Tony Fiore and moved to second when Italian third baseman Mark Saccomanno (Astros) threw wide to second on a slow grounder by second baseman Placido Polanco (Tigers).
Saccomanno could not avoid trouble as reigning National League MVP Albert Pujols proceeded to hit a sharp grounder right at him. The Baylor alum bobbled the tricky hop and his throw to second went into right field, allowing two runs to score, after Pujols got into a rundown long enough between first and second giving Polanco a chance to reach the plate. It was a rough tournament for Saccomanno in the field as he made a throwing error the previous night that allowed a run to score for Venezuela.
“In order to beat a team like this, you have to be on top of your game,” Italy DH Mike Piazza said. “You can’t outs away and you can’t give runs away.”
Italy showed some resiliency in the top of the third when Giarratano walked with one out. The shortstop was running on a 1-0 pitch to Frank Menechino and scored easily when his double-play partner doubled off the center field wall. Catalanotto doubled to left two pitches later to make it 3-2 Italy.
The lead did not hold for long.
Polanco lead off the Dominican half of the third with a single, and Pujols blasted the next pitch he saw onto the grassy knoll in left field to give the Dominicans a lead they would never relinquish.
“It was a cutter,” Fiore said. “But it was flat and it didn’t move. I can’t beat myself up too much because I am trying to throw a first-pitch strike. It was not the pitch I wanted but there is not much I can do if he is going to do that.”
The score held at 4-3 until the bottom of the fifth. Reliever Riccardo De Santis, who was brought on in the bottom of the fourth, fooled Pujols, but he reached on a dribbler to third for a leadoff single. De Santis was able to retire cleanup hitter David Ortiz, but Moises Alou followed with a single before Beltre stepped to the plate.
Beltre and De Santis dueled for seven pitches before the third baseman crushed his third home run in two games over the wall in center.
“Of course when you face guys like that you have to be careful with every pitch and that is what I was trying to do,” De Santis, who is one of just four natural born Italians on the team, said. “The difference between those guys and anyone else is that when you make a mistake they kill you . . . It was sinker outside, I left it over the plate. It was a bomb.”
Any hopes of an Italy comeback were squashed by Sosa, who allowed just one baserunner over four innings while fanning four. The Braves righthander, who was in top form after a season of winter ball, used a deadly two-pitch combination of mid-90s heat and a low-80s slider to baffle the Azzurri lineup.
“(That was the best I’ve seen him) by far,” Polanco said. “He was hitting his spots at a very high speed and mixed in a couple of sliders. It is scary right there because you have all the hitters cheating on the fastball, then all of a sudden you see the offspeed pitch.”
The victory by the Dominicans all but assures them a place in the next round of play, which for them would be in Puerto Rico. For Italy, it was a tough loss to take despite the fact that it was expected by almost everyone. Nonetheless, their attitude remained positive, as it has all week.
“We’ve proven to the people of Italy and the Italian Federation that we can play baseball,” Italian manager Matt Galante said. “No one was afraid of anyone, we gave as good of an effort as we could, and we had as much fun as some of the playoff teams I have been a part of.”