Team USA Finishes Olympic Qualifier Unbeaten
By Jack Magruder
PHOENIX--The United States added an acrobatic exclamation point to its sweeps-week performance Saturday.
Second baseman Howie Kendrick (Angels) hit a home run and a sacrifice fly to drive in two runs and also made a diving stop to save another run as Team USA beat Canada 5-2. Saturday’s victory completed a 5-0 run in the CONCEBE Olympic qyalifying regional while advancing the U.S. to the Americas Regional in Havana, Cuba, in August.
Kendrick capped the day by doing a triple-flip along the first base line after the game, after Canada's Stubby Clapp did a single flip while taking the field in the top of the first.
"We had a goal in mind to come out and qualify and we did more than that,” Kendrick said. "We actually came out and won the whole thing. It feels good to get five in a row. We had a great group of guys here. Everybody can swing it. Everybody can play defense. The pitching was there. We had a lot of timely hits.”
Kendrick homered in the first inning, becoming the eighth player to homer for Team USA, which did not allow a home run until Canada's Scott Thorman (Braves) hit one in the last of the ninth inning Saturday.
Team USA hit .374 while outscoring the field 49-13.
Brandon Wood (Angels) doubled and scored the go-ahead run in the fifth inning, moving to third on a Travis Hanson (Cardinals) groundout and scoring on a Jeff Mathis (Angels) sacrifice fly to make it 2-1. Kendrick made a diving stop in the hole with runners on first and third and two outs in the last of the sixth to preserve the lead, and the U.S. added two runs in the eighth inning on Shane Victorino's (Phillies) RBI-double and Kendrick's sacrifice fly. Mathis had a run-scoring single in the ninth.
Wood also made defensive plays from deep in the hole in the seventh and ninth innings to take hits away from Canada (3-2).
"We played good baseball, did the little things,” Team USA manager Davey Johnson said. "Manufactured some runs. Made some good defensive plays. (Wood) has had a terrific year. He's a special ballplayer. He was probably our MVP today. (Kendrick) is a special player, too. The Angels are really in good shape for the future with those two guys up the middle.”
"It was unbelievable playing with all these guys,” said Wood, who capped a 58-homer season with one in the first game of the CONCEBE qualifier. "It's amazing how close you get with your teammates in just a five-, six-day period. We came together and had a lot of fun in the clubhouse, in the dugout and on the field.”
Lefthander Bill Murphy (Diamondbacks), pitching a day after being left off the Diamondbacks’ 40-man roster and sent outright to Triple-A, gave up one run in six innings, that after an infield single off his glove in the second inning, to become the third team USA starter with a victory. The staff finished with a 2.51 ERA.
Kendrick hit .400 and led the U.S. with seven RBIs.
Cleanup hitter and first baseman Ryan Shealy (Rockies) hit .500 with a homer and five RBIs, and the catching platoon of Mathis and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Braves) was 13 for 20 with two homers (both by Saltalamacchia) and 10 RBIs.
Both Mathis and Saltalamacchia would be candidates for the Havana qualifier, as would many others such as Wood and Kendrick, but players on the major league 25-man roster will not be available to Team USA. And Mathis, for example, is considered a strong candidate to become the Angels' starting catcher in 2006 with the departure of free agent Bengie Molina.
"This was a great opportunity to play for the U.S. here,” Mathis said. "I enjoyed the five days we were together. You grow up wanting to play in the major leagues, and that's what you want to do, but it's also a tremendous honor to be able to play for your country.
"Either way it works it will be for the best, either the big leagues or come back and play for these guys. Either way it is a winning situation.”
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