Eight Mexico Pitchers Shut Down Team USA

ANAHEIM–They had their backs to the wall, their fate in their own
hands, and the man manager Buck Martinez called the best big-game
pitcher in baseball, Roger Clemens, taking the hill for them.

the United States came up empty in Round Two of the World Baseball
Classic, falling 2-1 to Mexico. The loss eliminated Team USA from the

Emerging Devil Rays star Jorge Cantu had two RBIs,
and Mario Valenzuela went 2-for-2, scoring both runs and adding a great
catch in right field, as Mexico triumphed. Mexico, the U.S., and Japan
all finished the round with identical 1-2 records, and in a tiebreaker
involving runs allowed against common opponents, Japan advances to the
WBC semifinals, which kick off Saturday in San Diego.

never prepare for defeat. It’s a disappointing loss,” Martinez said.
“We were well-prepared against Mexico having faced them before. We
pitched very well against them, and they scored one more run than us.
We never really got into a groove with the bats.”

dominated the game, as Mexico starter and Pirates lefthander Oliver
Perez lacked sharpness but allowed only one hit and one walk over the
first three innings. Relievers Ricardo Rincon and Oscar Villareal were
magnificent in the middle, shutting down nine U.S. batters in order
over the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings. Mexico used eight pitchers
overall and three in the ninth–lefthander Jorge de la Rosa, who struck
out Ken Griffey Jr. to start the inning; righty Luis Ayala, who left
with an injury; and David Cortes.

The journeyman Cortes
threw one pitch, and it shattered Vernon Wells’ bat and started a 6-4-3
game-ending double play. The U.S. mustered only three hits in the game.

have to tip your hat to the quality of pitching we saw throughout the
tournament,” Martinez added. “Again tonight, they made some great
pitches out of that Team Mexico bullpen. Many of our hitters came back
shaking their heads after seeing the quality of the pitching.”

struck first in the bottom of the third, when Valenzuela led off with a
shot into the right-field corner that Wells went hard after. Wells
leaped at the wall, and the ball caromed into the field of play.
Valenzuela legged out an easy double, but the call was immediately
protested by Mexico manager Paquin Estrada, who claimed the ball had
hit the right-field foul pole for a home run. The umpires conferred,
and Valenzuela stayed at second with a double. Replays showed the ball
was a home run, but the original call stood.

Mexico was
livid, with pitcher Esteban Loaiza and others taking to the field to
express their displeasure. But the point became moot two outs and two
batters later when Cantu continued his hot streak and laced a single to
score Valenzuela. Clemens then struck out Vinny Castilla on 3-2 count
to end the inning and prevent any future scoring.

The U.S.
got the run back in the fourth inning, with Chipper Jones starting
things off with a bang, knocking a double off the wall to straight-away
center. Alex Rodriguez followed with a shot to right-center, but
Valenzuela tracked the ball and made a leaping catch at the wall. Jones
tagged up and made it to third with one out. Vernon Wells lofted a fly
to right, with Jones tagging again, this time to score, barely beating
a strong throw from Valenzuela.

Mexico again employed the
combination of Valenzuela and Cantu to score their next run, which
proved to be the winner. Valenzuela started the fifth with a crisp
single on Clemens’ first pitch. Luis C. Garcia expertly laid down a
sacrifice bunt, moving Valenzuela to second. Alfredo Amezaga slapped a
soft liner just past shortstop Derek Jeter’s glove to move Valenzuela
to third, and Clemens was lifted to a standing ovation, having thrown
what might have been the last competitive pitch of his career, his 73rd
of the game.

Scott Shields entered, and Cantu grounded out
on the infield on a tough hopper to Jeter, scoring Valenzuela. Shields
induced Castilla to pop out to end the inning, and the procession of
great Mexican relievers started in the sixth. Mexico never looked back.

the loss and elimination, Martinez remained upbeat about the U.S.
performance. “I couldn’t have been more proud of how these guys went
about their business since day one,” the manager said. “There’s been a
lot said about the U.S. not taking this tournament seriously, but I can
guarantee you, there’s a lot of guys down in that clubhouse hurting
right now.”

Korea has already advanced from Pool One into
the semifinals. The two teams from Pool Two to make the final four are
Cuba and the Dominican Republic. The World Baseball Classic’s
semifinals kick off Saturday at Petco Park at noon local time, 3 p.m.
Eastern Time, as Cuba plays the Dominican. In their previous meeting in
Round Two, the Dominicans topped Cuba, 7-3.

Saturday’s other
semifinal game will pit Korea against Japan. In their previous two WBC
matchups, Korea has prevailed each time in one-run games, 3-2 and 2-1.

of course, has been the surprise of the tournament with a perfect 6-0
record. When asked for a tourney championship favorite, Buck Martinez
did not hesitate. “Korea. Absolutely,” he said.