Trea Turner’s Grand Slam Saves Team USA In World Baseball Classic

Image credit: Trea Turner (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)

MIAMI — The beautiful thing about great players is they can make up for a manager’s mistakes. They provide the gift of second chances and second life, wielding their talent to pull teams back from the brink after an ill-advised move or decision.

This being baseball, managerial decisions are dissected, analyzed and second-guessed ad infinitum. Sometimes, the blunders are obvious. Other times, the criticisms are unfair or ill-informed.

But at the end of the day, it’s players who win and lose games. It’s players who perform or don’t, execute or don’t, succeed or don’t. All it takes is one player, in one big moment, to make the managerial mistakes and miscalculations of a previous inning feel like a distant memory.

Trea Turner was that player on Saturday night. With one grand swing, he saved Team USA from a late-game collapse and kept its dreams of a repeat World Baseball Classic title alive.

Turner hit a momentous, go-ahead grand slam in the top of the eighth inning to lift Team USA to a wild, 9-7 win over Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic quarterfinals at loanDept Park. Team USA, after being six outs from elimination, advances to face Cuba in the semifinals on Sunday.

“I think this is probably the biggest hit that I’ve had,” Turner said. “And individually probably right up there with any hit I’ve ever had.”

Turner’s grand slam off Venezuela reliever Silvino Bracho saved Team USA after it blew a 5-2 lead on the heels of a puzzling decision by manager Mark DeRosa to keep a wild and ineffective Daniel Bard on the mound when he couldn’t find the strike zone.

Bard relieved Lance Lynn with a three-run lead to open the fifth inning and immediately struggled to throw strikes. He walked Gleyber Torres on five pitches to lead off the inning and almost hit him twice. He threw three pitches to Andres Gimenez, only one of which was in the strike zone, before giving up an infield single. He threw his second pitch to Jose Altuve, a slider, to the backstop for a wild pitch. Three pitches later, he hit Altuve in the hand to load the bases and forced Altuve to leave the game injured.

After walking the leadoff batter, throwing a wild pitch and hitting a batter, Bard clearly did not have his control. And yet, DeRosa left him in the game.

That decision predictably did not go well. Bard uncorked another wild pitch immediately after hitting Altuve to gift Venezuela a run and cut Team USA’s lead to 5-3. He finished the at-bat by walking Anthony Santander on four pitches to load the bases with no outs yet again.

Only then, after the second wild pitch and walk of the inning, did DeRosa pull Bard.

“When we see Daniel Bard, historically we know he has struggled with command,” Venezuela manager Omar Lopez said. “And the first thing we said is ‘Just be patient at the plate.’ ”

Jason Adam entered in the unfavorable position of having the bases loaded, no outs and Team USA’s lead down to just two runs, and Venezuela pounced.

Luis Arraez cut the deficit to one on a fielder’s choice. Salvador Perez drilled a double down the left field line to tie it. Ronald Acuna followed with a sacrifice fly to center field to bring home the go-ahead run and give Venezuela its first lead.

Bard was allowed to face four batters and allowed all of them to reach. All came around to score in the inning.

“The problem with that is once we get someone up, they got to come in,” DeRosa said. “We are, you know, dealing with some parameters to try and protect these guys. I knew he had to face three batters once he came in. Adam was going to take a second … a lot of these guys can get up super quick.”

Team USA’s lack of urgency stood in stark contrast to that of Venezuela. Starter Martin Perez was pulled after 16 pitches after he allowed the first five batters to reach via single, even though two of them were softly hit. When reliever Carlos Hernandez fell behind 2-0 to Mookie Betts to lead off the seventh, Venezuela immediately got a reliever up throwing in the bullpen.

Venezuela, with a staff full of major leaguers, is operating under the same restrictions and pressures as Team USA. That did not prevent it from being quick and decisive with its pitching decisions.

But Turner rendered it all moot. After Arraez hit his second homer of the game in the seventh to stretch Venezuela’s lead to 7-5, Team USA loaded the bases to start the eighth inning against reliever Jose Quijada. Bracho entered in place of Quijada to face Turner and got ahead in the count 0-2.

Bracho went to his changeup for the strikeout, but he hung it over the middle of the plate. Turner sent it 407 feet into the left-field bleachers, sending Team USA streaming out of the dugout in celebration as loanDepot Park erupted into an ear-splitting roar.

“When Trea clipped that ball, honestly, I saw about 35 guys, including the coaches, kind of black out and lose their minds for a minute,” DeRosa said. “So it was just an awesome moment.”

Devin Williams and Ryan Pressly took it from there, shutting down Venezuela in the eighth and ninth, respectively, to seal the win.

In a game where Team USA’s dormant offense finally awakened against quality pitching and its energy level finally matched that of its counterparts, it still stood on the brink of defeat because of poor bullpen management.

But thanks to Turner, the team is still alive to fight another day.

“Whenever your name’s called, you try to do the best you can to contribute and accomplish what your role is,” Turner said. “ … I had some opportunities early in the game to kind of contribute with the guys on base and didn’t get the job done. So keep your chin up, keep going and you never know when it’s going to be your moment.”

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