Well, that certainly made up for the disappointing Japan-Korea game.
Some quick notes:
LaTroy Hawkins got the win. Mark Johnson took the loss. J.J. Putz got the heart-stopping save.
Joey Votto was the offensive star of the game, going 4-for-5 with a homer and two doubles. He and Russell Martin got six of Canada's seven hits and scored four of their five runs. Jason Bay drew three walks and scored the other run. It's interesting to note the left-on-base numbers in the top-heavy Canadian batting order. The top five men left just five men on base. The bottom four left 12 on base (that's adding up the individual numbers; as a team, both Canada and the U.S. stranded nine men each).
There was no real pitching star as no one who threw well pitched more than an inning, but Scot Shields, J.J. Putz, and Phillippe Aumont provided the most entertaining innings, all three pitching out of major jams of their own creation. Those three pitchers threw a combined 76 pitches in three innings. By comparison, Matt Thornton got through the fifth on seven pitches, six of them strikes.
The U.S. spread its offense around, but Kevin Youkilis and Adam Dunn led the way as each homered and drew a pair of walks, and the two of them scored five of the team's six runs.
Canada will now face elimination on Monday against the loser of Saturday's 8 p.m. Venezuela vs. Italy game.
The USA will play the winner of that game Sunday night at 8 p.m., with the winner advancing to Round 2, and I'll be here to blog all the action.
Last licks for Canada with the top of the order going against the Mets' new set-up man, J.J. Putz.
Adam Stern, hitting for Chris Barnwell, grounds out to shortstop, where Jimmy Rollins makes a nice ranging play to his right. The speedy Stern and the ball got to first base at the same time.
Russell Martin follows with a booming double off the wall in the left-field gap. I thought he hit that one out.
Joey Votto, who has two singles and a homer in four trips, is up as the tying run. First pitch from Putz is a two-seamer at 90 mph, low and away, that Votto fouls off. Now 96 mph outside, 1-1. Votto steps out. Curve that doesn't break, way high, 2-1. 96-mph heater at the knees, fouled off, 2-2. 97 mph lower, ball three. Full count. Putz delivers a 96-mph fastball right down broadway. Votto breaks his bat on it, but sends it through the right-field gap to the wall for an RBI double. 6-5, USA, with the tying run on second and just one out.
Justin Morneau steps to the plate and grounds a 97-mph first-pitch fastball to shortstop for the second out.
Votto on second. Two out. 6-5 USA. Jason Bay at the plate against Putz.
Bay takes a 96-mph fastball at the letters for strike one. Slider low is good for a strike, 0-2. A 95-mph heater floats up and away, 1-2. Another up and away at 94 mph makes it 2-2. A slider low runs the count full. Martin comes to the mound to change the signs. Bay has taken both sliders. Bay fouls back a 93-mph pitch on the outside corner. He then fouls off another pitch at 94 mph, sending it into the front rows of the stands down the right field line. Adam Dunn is checking his pulse in the USA dugout. 96 mph strike, Bay swings, fly ball to right field. Game over.
USA wins 6-5.
Canada has six outs left to erase its two-run deficit. They'll start off with the bottom of the order against lefty J.P. Howell, who had a huge season out of the Rays' bullpen last year.
Kevin Youkilis makes a nice play on a grounder by Mark Teahen for the first out.
ESPN broadcaster Rick Sutcliffe has decided that the USA's rotation is their best feature, saying (I'm paraphrasing) "I mean, Peavy, (Roy) Oswalt, and ... uh, and" (I imagine him looking at the names Ted Lilly and Jeremy Guthrie on his roster), "well, that's a great way to start off." He just watched Peavy give up two runs in a mere three innings in this game.
Howell walks Nick Weglarz, then gets Pete Orr to hit into a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning. Three outs left for Team Canada.
Lefty David Davidson is on for the Canadians. He threw two innings for the Pirates in 2007 and gave up six runs. Last year, he posted a 3.34 ERA for the Bucs' Double-A team in Altoona.
Davidson has walked five men per nine innings in his minor league career and here walks Brian McCann after a Ryan Braun groundout. That's the 13th walk of the game, with the free passes split evenly between the two teams. There have also been five home runs in this game.
Shane Victorino singles to put men on first and second.
Hey, it's the wave. Note that fans never do the wave when their team is winning.
After Dustin Pedroia flies out, shortstop Chris Barnwell boots a Jimmy Rollins grounder to load the bases for Chipper Jones, now batting righty against the lefty Davidson, with two outs, but Jones strikes out swinging.
Last ups for the Canadians coming up ...
Scot Shields, who is a dead ringer for actor William Fitchner, is in, the fourth reliever used by Davey Johnson. Curtis Granderson is in center. Shane Victorino has moved to right in place of Adam Dunn, and Jimmy Rollins is now at shortstop. This is Johnson's prevent defense.
Rollins throws out Chris Barnwell to start the inning, but the defense can't do anything about Russell Martin's solo home run into the Canadian bullpen. Joey Votto then singles to bring Justin Morneau to the plate as the tying run.
Shields strikes out Morneau on a curve that dives into the dirt. Now it's Jason Bay who represents the tying run. Bay works a walk, putting the tying run on base for Matt Stairs with two outs.
Shields starts Stairs off with a diving curve that Stairs, swinging for the fences, misses. Another curve, up and away, is fouled off the other way. A 93-mph heater floats high, as does a second to run the count even at 2-2. Shields then comes back with the curve, low and in, and gets Stairs swinging, stranding both runners.
Righty Phillippe Aumont, the Mariners' six-foot-seven prospect, is on for Canada. Dustin Pedroia greets him with an opposite-field double that one-hops the wall in the right-field gap. Jimmy Rollins then hits a line drive down the third base line that Mark Teahen leaps for and tips into foul territory, turning an easy double into a single. Both runners move up on a ball in the dirt that was ruled a wild pitch, but should have been a passed ball as Russell Martin tried to backhand it and it squirted away from him. Aumont then walks Chipper Jones to load the bases for David Wright with no outs.
Aumont gets Wright to loop a ball to shortstop for the first out, passing the buck to Kevin Youkilis, who strikes out on a questionable call on a check swing. Curtis Granderson is the U.S.'s last chance to get a run out of what was a bases-loaded, no-outs situation, but Aumont strikes him out swinging on a slider down and in, getting a big reaction out of both the crowd and himself.
Joel Hanrahan of the Nationals is now on for the U.S. He's another of the late replacement relievers for the U.S.
Hanrahan walks Jason Bay to start the inning. Matt Stairs then hits a deep liner to left that Ryan Braun has to leap for near the warning track, a nice running play by Braun.
Mark Teahen pulls a double into the right-field gap. Bay holds at third.
Nick Weglarz breaks his bat on a comebacker that Hanrahan makes a nice play on, holding Bay at third and retiring Weglarz for the second out. Three pitches later, Hanrahan bounces a pitch past Brian McCann to bring Bay home and bring Canada within one run at 4-3. With the tying run on third, Pete Orr grounds out to first.
Chris Begg looks a little like a curly-haired Dmitri Martin. He walks Kevin Youkilis with stone-faced irony.
Adam Dunn follows with a two-run homer to the opposite field gap that looked like an easy fly. True to form, Dunn and Youkilis have combined for two homers and four walks in six combined plate appearances. 6-3, USA.
Braun hits a line drive right at Teahen at third base, prompting a pitching change.
Six-foot-six fighty Christopher Leroux (pronounced: la-ROO) comes on for Canada. He's a 24-year-old reliever in the Marlins' system who posted a 3.65 ERA in High-A last year with solid peripherals.
Leroux gets Brian McCann and Shane Victorino to pop out to end the inning.
With Marlins lefty Matt Thornton on the mound for the U.S., Adam Dunn makes a nice sliding catch on a flare by Russell Martin to shallow right. Thornton then gets Joey Votto looking with a 98-mph fastball on the outside corner and Justin Morneau to fly out to shallow left. That's a 1-2-3 inning for Thornton on seven pitches.
Chris Begg is on for the Canadians. Mike Johnson's final line: 4 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 2 HR, 3 BB, 3 K.
Begg is a 29-year-old righty who was in the Giants' system until an injury derailed his career. He finished last year in the independent Can-Am league. He wears his pant cuffs at the knee and throws from a low three-quarter angle.
Derek Jeter singles up the middle and Davey Johnson sends Jimmy Rollins in to pinch-run for him. That's Johnson's subtle way of putting Rollins in as a defensive replacement with the USA sporting a two-run lead in the middle innings.
Begg strikes out Chipper Jones swinging on an 85-mph cutter that dives away from the lefty-swinging Jones, who has now struck out twice in three hitless at-bats. David Wright flies out and Rollins is thrown out stealing by Martin to end the inning.
Indeed, LaTroy Hawkins is on the mound for the U.S. Hawkins, a good guy and a student of the game's history, is wearing Jackie Robinson's number 42, which is not retired for international competition. Hawkins was a late replacement in the pen after Joe Nathan, B.J. Ryan, and Brian Fuentes pulled out.
Mark Teahen grounds out to Dustin Pedroia to start the inning. Nick Weglarz then draws a walk, the sixth of this game, but Hawkins strands him by getting Pete Orr looking on an outside fastball and getting Chris Barnwell to hit into a fielder's choice, forcing Weglarz at second for the third out.
By the way, the Rogers Centre is packed. It's like 1993 all over again.
Kevin Youkilis leads off the bottom of the fourth with a wall-scraping homer that I thought was going to be a double at worst. That thing just kept carrying over the 375-foot sign (114.3 meters, eh), an opposite-field poke to tie the game.
Adam Dunn follows with a four-pitch walk. Mike Johnson is at 53 pitches, so he still has some room in his pitch-count, but the Canadian bullpen is getting going, with righty Chris Begg starting to throw.
Johnson rallies by striking out Ryan Braun on a check swing on a slider low and away, but Brian McCann follows by yanking a booming homer down the right-field line on an 86-mph fastball. The U.S. takes its first lead, 4-2.
Johnson gets Shane Victorino to pop out and Pedroia to groundout for the third time in as many at-bats to end the inning.
After Russell Martin lines out to Kevin Youkilis, Joey Votto crushes a cut-fastball up in the zone to right center to make it 2-1 Canada. Votto has scored both Canadian runs thus far, previously coming around after a single in the first.
Justin Morneau follows the homer with a walk as Jake Peavy is having trouble getting his offspeed pitches over the plate. With one out in the third, he's already walked three and hit a fourth.
Peavy gets Jason Bay looking on a 92-mph fastball on the outside corner and Matt Stairs swinging at an 86-mph changeup low and away. Peavy is at 58 pitches. Seventy is the limit for Round 1, and Peavy supposedly didn't want to go much past 50, so that might have been his last frame. His line thus far:
3 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 1 HR, 3 BB, 4 K, 1 HBP. All of his outs have come via strikeout or groundout. In fact, other than Brian McCann's sac fly, every out in this game has been a strikeout or groundout.
Mike Johnson gets through the heart of the USA order on seven pitches via a pair of groundouts and an infield pop-up.
Kevin Youkilis and Adam Dunn start things off with a pair of walks. Ryan Braun then hits a potential double-play ball, but it bounces a bit too much and Dunn takes out Pete Orr at second to assure Braun is safe at first. With runners on the corners and one out, Brian McCann lifts a sac fly to center, tie game.
Shane Victorino shoots a pitch off Justin Morneau's glove at first base, once again putting runners on the corners, this time with two outs, but Dustin Pedroia again grounds out to shortstop.
Nick Weglarz grounds to second to start the inning. Weglarz is one of my "names to remember" from my Pool C preview:
Nick Weglarz is a 22-year-old left-fielder possessing a great plate approach and solid power. Weglarz will start the season in Class AA and could be hitting in the middle of the Indians' lineup come 2011, though he might be a first baseman by then.
Two more groundouts give Jake Peavy a 1-2-3 inning.
Dustin Pedroia hits a weak bouncer to short on the first pitch from Mike Johnson.
Johnson is a thin fellow with a thin, scraggly beard and a three-quarters arm slot.
Derek Jeter doubles down the right field line, a classic opposite-field hit from Jeter.
Chipper Jones, though often injured (which is why he's the USA's DH), has just gone nuts the last few years. Over the last four years he's hit .332/.430/.585. That's over four years! Here he swings 3-0 and misses badly on a 68-mph changeup low and away. After an 88-mph fastball on the outside corner that runs it full, he takes an 80-mph slider right down the middle and returns to the dugout.
David Wright then takes another 80-mph pitch for another strikeout looking. The pitch looked like a slider that was supposed to break over the plate, but didn't break and stayed on the black inside.
The Rogers Centre roof is closed due to rain as we get to watch yet another WBC game on turf. I understand the WBC having all of the first-round games outside of the U.S., but aren't there any foreign ballparks that have grass?
The USA is in their home whites with blue caps. The Canadians, who are actually on their home turf, are wearing red jerseys with grey road pants.
First pitch from Jake Peavy is a fastball strike down the middle, and away we go ...
Peavy's at 95 mph right off the top here.
Chris Barnwell is called out on a check swing. Meanwhile, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Willy Tavares was thrown out at third in the bottom of the ninth with the Dominican Republic trailing the Netherlands 3-2.
Russell Martin, whose full name is Russell Nathan Coltrane Jeanson Martin, is wearing "J. Martin" on his back. He draws a walk from Peavy.
Down in San Juan, the Netherlands just upset the Dominican Republic 3-2. Wow.
Joey Votto singles on the first pitch and Martin goes to third.
Justin Morneau hit a broken-bat chopper to Kevin Youkilis at first. With the bat headed out to second base, Youkilis bobbles the ball and after forcing Morneau at first, hits Votto in the back with his throw to second. Martin scores, 1-0 Canada.
Jason Bay draws a walk, Jake Peavy's second of the inning.
Big hand for Matt Stairs. Good for him.
Stairs is brushed on the right elbow with a pitch. Bases loaded.
Teahen strikes out on a fastball up. End of a half: 1-0 Canada.
Here are the lineups:
R -- Chris Barnwell (SS)
R -- Russell Martin (C)
L -- Joey Votto (DH)
L -- Justin Morneau (1B)
R -- Jason Bay (CF)
L -- Matt Stairs (RF)
L -- Mark Teahen (3B)
L -- Nick Weglarz (LF)
L -- Pete Orr (2B)
P -- Mike Johnson (RHP)
R -- Dustin Pedroia (2B)
R -- Derek Jeter (SS)
S -- Chipper Jones (DH)
R -- David Wright (3B)
L -- Adam Dunn (RF)
R -- Kevin Youkilis (1B)
R -- Ryan Braun (LF)
L -- Brian McCann (C)
S -- Shane Victorino (CF)
P -- Jake Peavy (RHP)
Only three men in the USA's lineup had an Equivalent Average* below .300 last year. Those two men were Ryan Braun at .299 and Derek Jeter at .283, and Shane Victorino at .282 (who is starting over Curtis Granderson, who had a .303 EqA last year). Number-three hitter Chipper Jones led the American nine with a .365 EqA. By comparison, even the solid Canadian lineup had just one player with an EqA over .300 last year, that being Justin Morneau at .314 (though Jason Bay was at .298 and Reds' rookie first-baseman Joey Votto came in at .295).
Canada's defense could prove problematic. Bay is not a center fielder -- he last played there in 2005 and has played a grand total of 40 games in center in his major league career. To Bay's left is the lumbering Matt Stairs, who won't be much help in the right-field gap. Also, Mark Teahen played just 19 games at third-base last year and none the year before. This behind an already weak pitching staff.
Canada's starting pitcher is righty Mike Johnson, who spent parts of five seasons with the Montreal Expos and finished his major league career (which started with a brief stint with the Orioles) with a 6.85 ERA in 81 games, 32 of them starts. Since his last appearance in the majors in 2001, Johnson has played in Japan, with the Triple-A teams of three different organizations, and most recently in the independent leagues. In 2007, Johnson posted a 4.90 ERA in 13 stars and 14 relief appearances for his home-town Edmonton Cracker-Cats of the independent Northern League.
(*Baseball Prospectus's adjusted total-offense rate stat built on the same scale as batting average)
Derek Jeter draws the start over Jimmy Rollins as the USA's shortstop today. That's part of a very clever solution to the USA's shortstop quandary by Davey Johnson. Rollins and Jeter are of roughly equal value at the plate, but Rollins switch-hits and is a far superior defender and base stealer. That would make Rollins appear to be the proper choice for starter, but good luck telling Derek Jeter that he's going to be a reserve. Johnson's solution of alternating starts between the two gives Jeter the high-profile "Opening Day" start, but lines up Rollins to start the more important games with it appearing to be by chance. Check it out:
Jeter starts today against "second-division" Canada.
Rollins then starts the next game in which the USA will either be playing the winner of Game 2 with a chance to advance, or the loser of Game 2 in a double-elimination game.
If the US wins its first two games, Jeter would then start Game 6, which will only effect the seeding for Round 2.
Rollins would then start two of the first three games in Round 2, when the competition is stiffer, and if the U.S. wins its first two games of that round, Rollins would start in the final as well.
Not a bad trick.
Good afternoon, baseball fans, and welcome to SI.com's first World Baseball Classic live blog. We'll be running live blogs for all of the USA's games in this tournament, and I'll be your host for all but the two seeding games (Game 6 of Rounds 1 and 2, assuming the U.S. team makes it that far).
The tournament is really swinging into action this weekend with the first two games in both Pools C and D being played today, and Pool B's first two contests tomorrow, but Pool A got started things off on Thursday and has already seen the first team eliminated and the first team advance to Round 2. Chinese Taipei, which scored just one run in its two losses, was the first team to fall when China beat it 4-1 Friday night behind the fine play of Chinese-American shortstop Raymond Chang. Japan, meanwhile, clinched a Round 2 berth with its stunning 14-2 mercy-rule victory over Korea early this morning.
Our focus here, however, will be the action at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, where the USA begins its quest to erase the embarrassing memory of its Round 2 exit in the inaugural WBC tournament in 2006. The top two teams from each pool advance to Round 2 and, as I wrote in my look at the revised WBC format, it would be a major upset if any of the "second division" teams (Chinese Taipei, which has already been eliminated, China, South Africa, Australia, Canada, Italy, Panama, Netherlands) were to advance at the expense of any of the "first division" teams (Japan, Korea, Cuba, Mexico, USA, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico).
That said, the best of those second-division teams is the USA's opponent in Saturday's game, Canada. Canada is not only playing in front of a home crowd in Toronto, but is the only "second-division" team to feature anything resembling a major league lineup. With Justin Morneau, Jason Bay, Russell Martin, Joey Votto, Matt Stairs, and Mark Teahen, the Canadian team can hit. The big question is whether or not its pitching staff, comprised primarily of minor leaguers, can stop the USA's All-Star offense. Canada upset the US in Round 1 of the 2006 WBC by getting the better of Dontrelle Willis and pulling out an 8-6 win. It seems likely that Canada's best hope today is to out-slug the US once again in another high-scoring game, but they'll have their work cut out for them facing 2007 NL Cy Young award winner Jake Peavy and the USA's impressive bullpen.
I'll be back in a bit with the starting lineups and updates roughly every half-inning.