Italy Surprises Canada

By Larry Millson

TORONTO—Team Canada entered the World Baseball Classic knowing that it needed to hit to advance.

Injuries to such pitchers as Rich Harden and Jeff Francis and Ryan Dempster’s decision to concentrate on spring training with the Chicago Cubs left manager Ernie Whitt short of experience on his staff.

The hitting though was supposed to be there. But in the end, when it counted, it was not.

After losing a tense 6-5 decision to Team USA in the opener of Pool C before a crowd of 42,314 at Rogers Centre on Saturday, Canada took an unexpected 6-2 loss to Team Italy on Monday before 12,411 and was eliminated from the tournament.

Italy, which had a 4-for-4 game including three doubles and two RBIs from center fielder Chris Denorfia, will play Venezuela Tuesday with the loser to be eliminated.

“One of the great things about international ball is that it’s a one-game final every day, so on any given day, any team can beat any team,” said Denorfia who batted .290-1-9 in 29 games with the Oakland Athletics last season and .302-2-20 at Triple A Sacramento.

Denorfia also made a diving catch on Joey Votto in the seventh inning.

“There’s a lot of frustration,” said Team Canada first baseman Justin Morneau who made the final out to go 4-for-5 for the game. “We came in expecting to take a step forward and I feel we took a little step back.”

Morneau had two doubles Monday to finish with a .444 average. Jason Bay was 2-for-2 with two walks and two RBIs to bat .500 for the two games. Votto was 1-for-4 on Monday after going 4-for-5 against Team USA and had a batting average of .556.

But Russ Martin was 2-for-9, Matt Stairs 0-of-6 and Mark Teahen 1-for-6 and the overall team batting average was .215.

Lefthander Dan Serafini who was 15-16, 6.04 in seven major-league seasons before going to Japan and pitched in Mexico last year, held Team Canada to two runs and four hits in three innings. Jason Grilli allowed one hit and two walks over 3 1/3 innings to earn the save.

“It wasn’t for a lack of effort, that‘s for sure,” Morneau said. “In ’06 we played the U.S. tough and we ended up winning that game. We played them tough again and came up a little short. We felt like we had a team good enough to go to Miami for the second round and instead we lose two straight at home in our own backyard. And you know you never want to come out in form like that, and it doesn’t matter where it is, but it especially hurts more being in front of our own fans.”

“It’s going to take time to recover,” Votto said. “I’ve never experienced anything like this before….I‘m really devastated. I mean, sure, it‘s just a baseball game and everything but when you do it for a living and you are playing for your country and I was really excited about this tournament…”

Whitt had elected to save his only major league starter, Scott Richmond, for Tuesday’s game, a game that as it turned out Team Canada will not play. Vince Perkins started Monday and allowed three runs, two earned, in two innings plus one batter.

“It was my decision,” Whitt said. “I’ll take the heat for that. I felt very comfortable that the pitchers we had lined up that they could hold Italy in check and we could score a lot of runs. Again, in this type of format we knew our back was against the wall. Our mindset was that we wanted to go on. And, you know, obviously we didn’t and if anyone’s going to take the blame, I’ll take the blame for that.”

Team Canada was hoping for three innings from Perkins, a former Toronto Blue Jays prospect who pitched last season in independent leagues and signed a minor-league contract with the Chicago Cubs for this year.

Perkins allowed an unearned run in the first when he committed an error on a comebacker from Nick Punto, the first batter of the game. Two one-out walks and an infield hit produced the run.

Two more walks and Davide Dallospedale’s single scored a run in the second and Perkins departed after Denorfia’s leadoff double in the third.

T.J. Burton took over and allowed a single and Alex Liddi’s sacrifice fly.

Italy went ahead 4-0 in the fourth with a run against lefthander Scott Diamond who led Atlanta Braves’ minor-leaguers with 15 wins between Class A Rome and Class A Myrtle Beach last year in his first professional season. Frank Catalanotto singled with one out and Denorfia doubled him home with two out. It was the only run allowed by Diamond in three innings.

Canada scored two in the fourth on consecutive doubles by Votto, Morneau and Bay. Lefthander Chris Cooper replaced Serafini and allowed two hits and three walks in 2 2/3 innings.

Italy scored twice against Steve Green in the seventh.

Team Canada righthander Chris Leroux, a seventh-round pick by the Florida Marlins in 2005, pitched one inning and allowed a hit and a walk and had one strikeout. He was 6-7, 3.65 in 57 relief outings last year with Class-A Jupiter.

“If there’s any positive at all,” Whitt said. “some of the kids threw well out of the pen. Let’s look at a bright future there for them hopefully.”