SAN DIEGO—This one had all the makings of another disappointing World Baseball Classic loss for the United States.
The bats were dead silent. The opportunities were being missed. The energy level was cratering.
It was the same scenario that had plagued the United States in all three previous versions of the Classic, and largely limited them to second-round fodder.
Jones hit a game-tying solo home run in the eighth and Hosmer hit the go-ahead two-run shot three batters later, and Team USA rallied to stun Venezuela 4-2 on Wednesday night in the second-round opener for both teams at Petco Park.
“You just kind of always have that feeling that you’re going to break through,” said Hosmer, who won the 2016 All-Star Game MVP award the last time he played at Petco Park. “Jonesy really, really got it started for us there. Right after that swing, it just changed the whole energy in the dugout. It’s one of those things where you see something like that happen, you just have a good feeling you’re going to come out on top at the end of the game.”
Indeed, Jones’ leadoff home run off Hector Rondon (0-1) got the ball rolling after seven innings of frustration for Team USA. They trailed 2-1 and had managed only six hits to that point against Felix Hernandez and the Venezuelan bullpen, and had left runners in scoring position in three of the previous five innings.
Jones turned the tide with one swing, blasting a 2-2 fastball 397 feet over the left-center field fence and electrifying the U.S. dugout and crowd.
“This ranks up high,” said Jones, who was born and raised in San Diego. “I’ve been in the postseason a couple times, but I haven’t won it. But I’ve had some hits in the postseason, so it ranks up pretty high.”
The U.S. rode that burst of energy as far as it could. Christian Yelich followed with a single and, after Nolan Arenado flied out, Hosmer gave the U.S. it’s first lead with a 418-foot missile to the deepest part of the park in right-center. As he circled the bases, hearty chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” began to ring loudly from the stands. When Hosmer crossed the plate he pointed his hands high to the sky, and then brought them down and ripped them violently across his chest, emulating Superman.
After being dead for most of seven innings, the U.S. was alive and rolling.
“It was special. It really was,” Hosmer said. “When you hear the “USA” chants, when you hear the crowd going crazy after a big swing or big play like those tonight, it makes it really fun to be a part of this.”
Luke Gregerson closed it out in the ninth, finishing it with a ground-ball double-play off the bat of Victor Martinez. When the final out was recorded, the fist pumps were every bit as prominent for Team USA as they had been for Puerto Rico the night before.
“I think everybody’s saying that Team USA lacks emotion,” Jones said. “That we just go out there and play a bland type of baseball. But we’re emotional guys. We just handle it a little bit different . . . Big spot, bottom of eighth, you’ve got six outs left in the game against a very tough bullpen they have in Venezuela. So, hey, we showed some emotion. Ain’t nothing wrong with that. I think that people kind of liked that Team USA showed some emotion.”
The game had been a pitchers duel the entire way until that point. Hernandez tossed five scoreless innings for Venezuela and his Mariners teammate Drew Smyly struck out eight over 4.2 brilliant innings for Team USA.
A sacrifice fly by Ender Inciarte gave Venezuela a 1-0 lead in the third and Rougned Odor’s solo homer in the seventh gave them their other run.
Jonathan Lucroy’s sacrifice fly in the seventh was all the U.S. managed until the eighth, when the offensive light switch finally clicked on.
“We were talking to the guys before the game about trying to make sure that we bring the ball down with this kind of lineup,” Venezuela manager Omar Vizquel said. “Every time that you make a mistake like that or bring the ball up in the strike zone, you’re going to pay. That’s what happened with Hosmer. We got a high pitch, a high fastball, and he connected very well. It was the same way with Jones.”
The come-from-behind victory was crucial for the United States in the big picture. An opening-game loss to Venezuela with matchups against the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico still to come would have likely been a death knell for their hopes of advancing.
Instead, the U.S. is riding high after a momentous win, and feeling like it can take all comers.
“Baseball is America’s pastime,” Hosmer said. “We really feel the will and the want to bring it home and put America on top of the baseball world.”