Team USA Opens World Baseball Classic With Win Over Great Britain

Image credit: Kyle Schwarber (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

PHOENIX—Of the 30 players on Team USA’s star-studded roster, Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado are the only two who know what it is like to play in the World Baseball Classic.

Goldschmidt and Arenado were members of USA Baseball’s gold-medal winning team at the 2017 WBC. As the only two holdovers from that team, they have become de facto leaders of Team USA this time around, passing along nuggets of wisdom and sharing their experiences to prepare their teammates for what lies ahead.

One of the biggest lessons they’ve imparted on their teammates: never take any team for granted, no matter how weak their roster might appear on paper.

On Saturday night in its WBC opener, Team USA learned that lesson firsthand.

Arenado hit a pair of doubles, Kyle Schwarber hit a three-run homer and Team USA overcame a sluggish start to beat Great Britain, 6-2, in the Pool C opener for both teams at Chase Field. Team USA improbably fell behind early against Great Britain, but rallied to take the lead in the third inning and kept it the rest of the way.

“Not taking anybody lightly, we learned that against Columbia in ’17 how tough that first game was for us,” Arenado said. “We got to go after everybody we can, and it’s gonna be tough. A lot of these pitchers we’re facing we don’t know. So we have to find a way to compete and not take anybody lightly because it can be anybody’s day, just like it is in the regular season.”

With three former MVP winners and a host of all-stars on its roster, Team USA is the prohibitive favorite to win Pool C and a top contender for the gold medal. Facing a Great Britain team with just one active major leaguer in its starting lineup, the only question coming in was how large Team USA’s winning margin would be.

The answer, as it turned out, was smaller than expected.

Dodgers outfielder Trayce Thompson delivered that wakeup call two batters into the game when he drove a hanging curveball from Adam Wainwright over the left-field fence for a solo homer to give Great Britain an immediate 1-0 lead. Team USA left the bases loaded in the first and stranded a runner in scoring position in the second against Vance Worley, who hadn’t pitched in the major leagues since 2017. Worley struck out Mike Trout, retired Mookie Betts twice and induced weak contact from Arenado and Trea Turner, utilizing an array of upper-80s fastballs and mid-80s cutters and changeups to keep Team USA’s lineup off-balance.

Entering the bottom of the third, Team USA trailed 1-0.

“A couple of guys they threw at us sitting like 88-89, a lot of guys in this room are not used to seeing that on a day-to-day basis,” Team USA manager Mark DeRosa said. “You could tell Mike was a smidge off move, Mookie was a smidge off.” 

Goldschmidt and Arenado were the ones who kicked Team USA into gear.

A throwing error by Great Britain shortstop Darnell Sweeney allowed Goldschmidt to reach with one out in the third, and Arenado followed with a double down the left field line to score Goldschmidt and tie the score. Kyle Tucker drilled an RBI single to center three batters later to put Team USA in front, and it would not relinquish the lead.

Schwarber provided the big blow with a three-run homer over the pool in right-center field in the fourth, giving Team USA all the cushion it needed.

“It’s kind of a lot of firsts going on for some guys here,” Schwarber said. “Kind of just get that under the belt, right? Just kind of settle down. You know you’re in a really cool environment. And get those firsts out of the way, then it’s kind of right.”

Those firsts included Wainwright’s first career start representing Team USA. The 41-year-old veteran shook off Thompson’s first-inning homer to complete four innings with five hits and one run allowed, one walk and four strikeouts.

Despite his bountiful experience pitching in do-or-die elimination games, World Series games and other high-pressure situations throughout his 17-year-career, even Wainwright acknowledged the nerves and excitement he felt pitching for Team USA for the first time.  

“Goldy and Nolan, they told me it was pretty intense,” Wainwright said of his Cardinals teammates. “And I mean, it was. I’ve pitched in a lot of games and in the postseason, and the first inning I went out there and I was still kind of amped and all over the place and I had to kind of settle in. After that first inning, luckily we did.

“But those big games like that, even if you’ve been through it, a lot of times you still have to really keep track of your emotions and keep them in check.”

Now that Team USA has its first victory out of the way, it can turn its attention to Mexico on Sunday. Padres righthander Nick Martinez will get the start for Team USA against Angels lefthander Patrick Sandoval for Mexico. It likely will be Team USA’s biggest test in pool play, although Mexico’s shocking loss to Colombia in its opener has taken some of the luster out of the matchup.

Still, Team USA knows it can’t take anyone for granted. After getting a brief scare in its opener, that message holds even more meaning now.

“We’re here to go out there and try to get to the very end of this thing,” Schwarber said. “It’s not like we’re just here to be here. We’re not just happy to be here. We want to go out there and try to finish this thing off. Today was the first step, day one.

“That’s what we’re here for. When you have all these guys in this locker room who are superstars in their own right and guys who have seen a lot of big moments and a lot of big games, this is just as important as that as well.”

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