Sunday March 8th, 2009

It's difficult to remember now, but the U.S. entered the top of the sixth tonight trailing 3-2. They then sent eleven men to the plate and scored eight runs in that inning and added five more over the final three innings to romp to a 15-6 victory over Venezuela and become the second team in the tournament, after Japan, to clinch a second-round berth.

The big hit of the game was Chris Iannetta's bases-loaded triple to break the game open in that sixth inning. Iannetta, batting eighth, drove in four runs in the game, as most of the damage was done by the fourth-through-eighth hitters in the USA lineup. Mark DeRosa also tripled and drove in four runs. Kevin Youkilis and Adam Dunn both homered for the second straight game and scored seven of the USA's 15 runs between them. David Wright went 3-for-5.

On the other side, Miguel Cabrera and Magglio Ordoñez, the four and five hitters in the Venezuelan order, went a combined 0-for-9. Cabrera struck out three times and ended the game by grounding into a double play.

Still, Venezuela did score six runs. The real story was the awful Venezuelan pitching. Armando Galarraga was sharp for three innings, but tired in the fourth and gave up a pair of runs. The six relievers that followed him then gave up a combined 13 runs in five innings, with Victor Zambrano yielding four of them and Yoel Hernandez and Jan Granado coughing three each while only getting two outs between them. That all goes back to Luis Sojo's decision to use his ace Felix Hernandez in relief against Italy on Saturday. Had Sojo used King Felix and Gallaraga in tandem tonight, he might have put his team in Round 2 given the way his hitters were able to get to Roy Oswalt.

Instead, Venezuela will play the winner of Monday's matchup between Italy and Canada in a double elimination game on Tuesday. If they win that game, they'll rematch with the USA on Wednesday in a game that will simply determine the seeding for Round 2. We'll have a live blog of that seeding game, and I'll be back with you here for the USA's first game of Round 2 on Saturday.

Top 9th

ESPN's video signal just went dark. I think they ran out of tape. Fortunatley, they have commercials to rerun. Turning to's Gameday, after Dustin Pedroia flies out to center, Ryan Braun homers off Victor Morano to give the U.S. that 10-run lead, but too late to evoke the mercy rule. Kevin Youkilis grounds to third and David Wright walks. Finally the ESPN video returns. Apparently Rick Sutcliffe had no idea he wasn't on the air, and ESPN, rather than running a "technical difficulties" graphic just ran more commercials. To make up for it they're staying on the game during the change over in the half inning after Shane Victorino pops out to third.

From the replay ESPN just showed, Braun's homer looked foul, and Braun looked unsure on his way to second base, but the announcers didn't discuss it at all. I suppose at 14-5 it's not worth reviewing (MLB replay rules are in effect for the WBC). Venezuela might disagree.

Bottom 9th

New Padres closer Heath Bell is on to finish this thing up.

Gregor Blanco triples into the right field corner. I think that's the 942nd hit of the game.

Melvin Mora hits a slow bounder into the shortstop hole. Derek Jeter gets to it, but it wasn't hit hard enough for him to have a play on Mora. Blanco scores, 15-6 USA. See, it would have been premature to invoke the mercy rule in the top half of the inning, the U.S. only leads by nine runs now.

Actually, the great thing about baseball is that as long as a team has one out left, no lead is technically out of reach. Venezuela has three outs left.

Now two outs after Bobby Abreu hits a fly ball to the warning track in straight-away center.

Finally, Miguel Cabrera ends the game with a 6-4-3 double play.

The USA clinches a second round berth with a 15-6 win.

Top 8th

Lefty Jan Granado, who last played in the minors in 2006 and never got above Class AA, is in the game.

Ryan Braun leads off. It turns out that Braun was put in because Chipper Jones had a left oblique strain. Maybe Chipper will get his annual DL stay out of the way early this year.

Granado walks Braun. Kevin Youkilis replaces Braun at first via a fielder's choice and moves to third on a well-struck David Wright single. Wright has three singles in four at-bats. Adam Dunn walks to load the bases with one out and Luis Sojo calls on his seventh pitcher, righty Victor Moreno, who topped out at Class AAA in 2007.

Shane Victorino runs for Adam Dunn. Catcher Brian McCann is the only member of the USA bench not to get into this game.

Mark DeRosa's up with the bases loaded for the second time in the game and lifts a sac fly to deep right. Chris Iannetta then singles home David Wright. 13-5 USA.

Runners on first and second with two out. Curtis Granderson up. A double could end the game due to the mercy rule (after Venezuela bats, that is). Granderson singles Victorino home to make it 14-5 and put the mercying run (new term!) on third for Derek Jeter, but Jeter grounds out, guaranteeing that the game will go the distance.

Bottom 8th

Joel Hanrahan, who looked shaky against Canada yesterday, is on to pitch for the U.S. After a Carlos Guillen groundout, Jose Lopez hits hit third double in a row.

Backup catcher Max Ramirez of the Rangers hits for Ramon Hernandez.

Rick Sutcliffe's color commentary has descended to (paraphrasing quite a bit), "O.B., could you eat a giant ball of wasabi? I don't think I could do it."

Ramirez lines out to right, and Pirates lefty John Grabow comes on to replace Hanrahan. This game will never end.

I don't ever need to see Tim Lincecum's journey through the uncanny valley again. Nor do I need to see the delivery guys doing school attendance. Advertisers who buy that much air time should make more than one commercial.

Mercifully, Marco Scutaro swings at the first pitch and flies out to right to end the inning.

Top 7th

Adam Dunn leads off the seventh with a roof-scraping homer off Ivan Blanco, so Matt Lindstrom is officially the only one of the eight pitchers in this game not to allow a run. 11-5, USA.

After Mark DeRosa grounds out, Blanco walks Chris Iannetta and Curtis Granderson pushes him to second with a single, his first hit of the tournament. That turns the order over for Derek Jeter, who pushes Iannetta to third with a fly ball to right. That brings Dustin Pedroia up with runners at the corners and two outs. Pedroia drives a ball to the opposite-field warning track, but Bobby Abreu tracks it down two steps shy of the wall.

Bottom 7th

"The Ox," Jonathan Broxton, the Dodgers new closer, is on for the USA. Broxton is listed at 6-foot-4, 290 pounds on the USA's official roster and he throws in the upper 90s.

After Melvin Mora grounds out, Bobby Abreu singles up the middle, under the glove of Derek Jeter.

Broxton strikes out Miguel Cabrera on a sharp curveball. Cabrera is now 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. Carlos Guillen grounds out to end the inning.

Top 6th

The U.S. really needs to get the bats going. With Victor Zambrano on the mound and the heart of the order up, now's the time.

Youkilis swings at a two-strike pitch about four feet outside and in the dirt, but reaches first as the ball bounces over the net and into the seats behind home. Rick Sutcliffe, doing color for ESPN, says the pitch was a spitter (not a splitter), adding that when he played winter baseball in Venezuela, "you learn some things."

David Wright drops a single in front of Bobby Abreu in right; Youkilis moves to second. Adam Dunn walks to load 'em up with no outs for Mark DeRosa, who has been hit by a pitch and driven in the only two U.S. runs with a triple.

DeRosa swings through an 84-mph pitch that the ESPN cameras fail to show for strike one. Another breaking ball is taken for ball one. Zambrano throws a back-door cutter that looked like a strike but was called a ball. There were two shaky calls by home plate ump Dan Iassogna in Dunn's at-bat as well, but they evened out. The next pitch here looks like a ball inside and is called a strike as Ramon Hernandez brings it back over the plate. Pitch in the dirt, full count. DeRosa fouls off a breaking ball low, then takes ball four to drive in the tying run. Zambrano led the AL in walks in 2003 and 2004. Luis Sojo comes out to replace him with 27-year-old lefty Carlos Vasquez, who has never pitched in the majors and had a 6.21 ERA in 27 games split between Class AA and Class A last year.

Righty-swinging Chris Iannetta greets Vasquez with a bases-clearing triple that hits the base of the wall in the right-field gap. 6-3 USA.

Still no one out in this inning, but at least Felix Hernandez shut down Italy.

Vasquez strikes out lefty Curtis Granderson, who is the batter he was likely warming to face to begin with, then gets pulled in favor of Phillies righty Yoel Hernandez.

Zambrano's line, by the way, was 1 IP, 2 H, 4 R, 2 BB, 0 K

Top of the order and Derek Jeter to face Yoel Hernandez with one out and a runner at third.

Jeter walks. Dustin Pedroia runs the count full, then shoots a double down the third base line. Jeter was running on the pitch and comes all the way around to score behind Iannetta, running the score to 8-3 USA.

Hey, look! Davey Johnson took my advice and is batting Ryan Braun for Chipper Jones. As my mother would say, thank heaven for small miracles. Of course, he now has a five-run lead, so it's not as significant a move as it might have been last inning. The U.S. has batted around in this inning, incidentally, and there's still just one man out and Pedroia's in scoring position at second base.

Braun hits a chopper to second. Pedroia moves to third. Here's Kevin Youkilis's second at-bat of the inning. He started the inning off by reaching base on a wild third strike.

Youkilis works Hernandez for eleven pitches before launching a two-run homer to left-center. I wish I'd thought to check the time when this inning started, it feels like the U.S. has been batting for a week. With the U.S. up 10-3, the mercy rule starts to loom.

Righty Ivan Blanco, who spent 2008 in the independent leagues and has never pitched as high as Class AA, becomes the fourth Venezuelan pitcher of the inning. He gets David Wright to fly out to finally end the top of the sixth inning.

Bottom 6th

Ryan Braun is in left, Mark DeRosa moves to third. The A's Brad Ziegler takes over on the mound for the USA. Ziegler throws underhanded and looks like a third baseman making a play on a bunt when he delivers the ball and falls off to the third-base side. He set a record last year by starting his major league career with 39 scoreless innings. Here he gives up a solo home run to the first batter he faces, Carlos Guillen. 10-4, USA.

Jose Lopez follows with a double just inside the third base line and into the left field corner. That's Lopez's second double in as many at-bats. Ramon Hernandez follows with a single, pushing Lopez to third.

At this point it seems worth mentioning that Matt Lindstrom retired all four men he faced. Of the seven other pitchers in this game, all but Ivan Blanco, who is the active hurler for Venezuela and has faced just one batter, have given up at least one run.

After Marcel Lachemann visits the mound, Marco Scutaro hits into a 4-6-3 double play as Lopez scores. 10-5 USA.

Dustin Pedroia makes a nice ranging dive on a grounder heading into right field to retire the speedy Gregor Blanco for the final out.

Top 5th

Here's Victor "The Wrong" Zambrano. Again, this man had a 7.17 ERA in the minor leagues last year.

Top of the order for the USA. Jimmy Rollins, who has hit the ball hard all three times up, lines a single to center.

Rollins has a foot on the grass when he takes his lead at first-base, but it doesn't keep him out of the 6-4-3 double play Dustin Pedroia hits into. Pedroia is 1-for-8 in the tournament with five groundouts. Chipper Jones grounds to second; he's now 0-for-7 with a walk and five strikeouts. Unfortunately, Johnson started Jones in the field and David Wright at third-base (I forgot about that when I suggested a pinch-hitter before). Still, moving Mark DeRosa to third and putting Ryan Braun in for Jones could help.

Bottom 5th

Derek Jeter's in at shortstop for Jimmy Rollins. So now the defense on the left side of the infield for the USA is Chipper Jones and Jeter. That's not good. Besides which, Rollins looked locked in at the plate.

Lindstrom still in for the Americans. He sets Venezuela down in order by getting Bobby Abreu to ground to first, K-ing Miguel Cabrera on a curveball, and getting Magglio Ordoñez to pop out to Jeter.

Top 4th

Chipper Jones is indeed all fouled up. He strikes out on weak check swing on a slider that bounces past Ramon Hernandez, but is thrown out at first base. With Brian McCann, Ryan Braun, and Derek Jeter on the bench, Johnson should pinch-hit for Jones the next time up. I'd go with the lefty-hitting McCann, who hit a key two-run homer in yesterday's game.

Kevin Youkilis singles to left to break a streak of five retired by Armando Galarraga. After a David Wright fly out, Adam Dunn singles to right, sending a hustling Youkilis to third base and bringing up . . . Mark DeRosa with two outs and runners on the corners.

DeRosa swings at a 93-mph two-seamer low and away and shoots the ball past the reach of Gregor Blanco in the right-center-field gap. Youkilis and Dunn come around to score and DeRosa slides into third with a triple, proving that Davey Johnson is a genius and I should never second-guess him again. The U.S. takes the lead, 2-1.

Galaraga's at 55 pitches now and seems to be losing both velocity and location. He walks Chris Iannetta. Victor Zambrano is warming in the bullpen. Again, why Zambrano today and Felix Hernandez against Italy? That's why I only offered a partial apology to Sojo below.

Bottom 4th

Magglio Ordoñez sends Curtis Granderson to the wall in center, but Granderson reels in his drive for the first out. Roy Oswalt then walks Carlos Guillen. He's at 49 pitches.

Jose Lopez shoots an 0-2 fastball into the left field corner four a double. Guillen stops at third. Bottom of the order up with one out and two men in scoring position with the U.S. nursing a fresh one-run lead.

A curveball in the dirt way outside and in the dirt is smothered by Chris Iannetta, keeping the runners in place. Ramon Hernandez then grounds to short, advancing the runners and tying the game at 2-2. Oswalt's now at 57 pitches. If he can get ninth-place hitter Marco Scutaro (who singled in his only previous at-bat), he'll be done for the night. The U.S. bullpen is quiet. The tying run is on third with two out.

Oswalt just threw a gimme 88-mph fastball for a strike on 2-0. A curve evens the count at 2-2. Scutaro then fouls off a 95-mph fastball. Curve in the dirt, full count. Curve outside to walk Scutaro. Oswalt is at 64 pitches. The limit is 70.

Matt Lindstrom quickly begins to warm as pitching coach Marcel Lachemann visits the mound and Gregor Blanco steps to the plate. This will be Oswalt's last batter if only because of the pitch-count limit.

Blanco singles to right on the first pitch, 3-2 Venezuela. Scutaro moves to third. Oswalt is at 65 pitches. Melvin Mora's up, he delivered an RBI single in his last at-bat.

The infielders gather at the mound to waste time. As the home plate umpire goes out to break it up, Davey Johnson goes out to remove Oswalt. Oswalt's final line is 3 2/3 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 1 K

Matt Lindstrom, the 29-year-old third-year righty who will close for the Marlins this year, takes the mound. His first pitch is 100 miles per hour. Mora fouls it off. His second is an 82-mile-per-hour curve. Gregor Blanco steals second on that pitch without a throw. Mora fouls off a 97-mph heater. Next pitch is 98 mph in the dirt; Chris Iannetta was expecting a curveball. The next pitch is a curve, but Mora takes it low for a ball to run the count full. The payoff pitch comes in at 96 mph. Mora hits it sharply to third. Chipper Jones goes to his knees to glove it, spins and throws just beating the head-first-sliding Mora for the third out.

Top 3rd

Armando Galarraga returns serve with a 1-2-3 inning of his own, getting Curtis Granderson and Dustin Pedroia to fly out around a Jimmy Rollins fly out to center.

It's beginning to look like I owe Luis Sojo a partial apology for my opening remarks. Galarraga has held the USA scoreless on to two hits and a hit-batsman over three innings. He has struck out three and has impressed with his mid-90s heat and the sharp break on his slider.

Bottom 3rd

After Ramon Hernandez grounds to first, Marco Scutaro and Gregor Blanco single to break a streak of five straight retired by Roy Oswalt and put runners on first and second.

Melvin Mora singles Scutaro home to for the first run of the game, putting runners at first and second for Bobby Abreu and the heart of the order with one out, but Abreu flies out to center on a curveball up in the zone and Miguel Cabrera grounds out to short to end the threat.

Top 2nd

Venezuela is in their home whites with maroon caps and gold outlines. The USA is in their road grays with red caps, but blue belts and shoes. Kevin Youkilis shaved off the big bear goatee he had last year, but already seems to be growing a new one. He grounds to third to start the inning.

David Wright hits a grounder to Marco Scutaro's backhand. Scutaro bounces his throw twice and Wright beats it easily.

Adam Dunn strikes out looking on an 86-mph slider that drops into the zone. Armando Galarraga's next pitch hits Mark DeRosa in the left hip to put men on first and second with two outs for Chris Iannetta.

Iannetta hits a bouncer back to Galarraga for the third out. That came on another one of those sliders. Galarraga has a lot of movement on that pitch down and to the left and ten miles per hour of separation between that and his best fastball.

Bottom 2nd

Roy Oswalt works a 1-2-3 inning getting Magglio Ordoñez to fly to right, Carlos Guillen to ground to second, and Jose Lopez to ground to shortstop.

Top 1st

First pitch from Armando Galarraga to Jimmy Rollins is a ball outside and we're off

Rollins singles over the leap of Marco Scutaro and legs out a standing double on a ball that didn't even get to the wall.

Dustin Pedroia misses a bunt attempt and Ramon Hernandez picks Rollins off second base. Brutal. Not only was it poorly executed, but bunting with the defending AL MVP in the first inning of a game against an unexceptional pitcher was an awful call by Davey Johnson. Pedroia strikes out on a diving 94-mph fastball.

Galarraga's first pitch to Chipper Jones is 96 mph. Maybe "unexceptional" was a bit of an under-sell on Galarraga. Jones takes a 93-mph fastball down the middle at the knees for strike and out three. Jones seems really out of rhythm at the plate thus far in this tournament.

Bottom 1st

After Gregor Blanco pops to left and Melvin Mora grounds out to short.

Bobby Abreu picks up Venezuela's first hit with a clean single to left, but Roy Oswalt strikes out Miguel Cabrera with a 94-mph heater to end the inning.



S -- Jimmy Rollins (SS)

R -- Dustin Pedroia (2B)

S -- Chipper Jones (3B)

R -- Kevin Youkilis (1B)

R -- David Wright (DH)

L -- Adam Dunn (RF)

R -- Mark DeRosa (LF)

R -- Chris Iannetta (C)

L -- Curtis Granderson (CF)

P -- Roy Oswalt (RHP)


L -- Gregor Blanco (CF)

R -- Melvin Mora (3B)

L -- Bobby Abreu (RF)

R -- Miguel Cabrera (1B)

R -- Magglio Ordoñez (LF)

S -- Carlos Guillen (DH)

R -- Jose Lopez (2B)

R -- Ramon Hernandez (C)

R -- Marco Scutaro (SS)

P -- Armando Galarraga (RHP)

As much as I disagree with Luis Sojo's decision to burn Felix Hernandez against Italy, I'm pleased to see him starting Blanco and Scutaro over Endy Chavez and Cesar Izturis. Chavez and Izturis can pick 'em in the field, but they're out-machines. Blanco had a .366 on-base percentage as a rookie with the Braves last year, and Scutaro had a .341 OBP for the Blue Jays., and they're both fine fielders in their own right. I do question the decision to DH Guillen and play Cabrera at first base rather than the other way around, as Guillen's both a better defender and a multi-position player who could help fill a hole in the event of an injury if not for the fact that Sojo would have to surrender the DH in order to use Guillen that way. That said, I wouldn't be surprised if that decision came from the Tigers, as it protects the fragile Guillen and lets Cabrera familiarize himself with a position that was new to him as of the middle of last season.

As for the U.S., Davey Johnson did the right thing by reserving Oswalt for this potential clinching game and by using Rollins (as discussed in my blog of yesterday's game) and Granderson tonight. Given Brian McCann's big home run yesterday, it's surprising to see Chris Iannetta starting behind the plate, but the real odd choice to me is DeRosa in left. If DeRosa had to have a start (to please the Indians), why not start him yesterday in the lesser game?

We return to the Rogers Centre where Saturday's two victorious teams from Pool C are about to match up with the winner advancing to Round 2.

In Saturday's action, the United States pulled out a tense 6-5 victory over its Canadian hosts, with Kevin Youkilis and Adam Dunn leading the offensive attack. Venezuela then trounced Italy 7-0.

I was stupefied, however, by the fact that Venezuelan manager Luis Sojo used his ace, Felix Hernandez, for four innings and 61 pitches in relief of Carlos Silva on Saturday. I agreed with Sojo's decision to start Silva, using a lesser starter against a lesser team, but the logic behind that was, I thought, to save Hernandez for Sunday night's game against the USA's All-Star lineup, since the winner will advance to Round 2.

Sojo turned to Hernandez with the game still scoreless entering the fifth inning, one assumes in an effort to avoid going to his bullpen too early in a game that he thought might go extra innings. I can appreciate that to a degree, but why not turn to another one of his starters? Why use his ace against an already overmatched Italian lineup? Looking at the Venezuelan roster, Sojo has three established major league starters in Silva, Hernandez, and Armando Galarraga, plus talented Reds rookie Ramon Ramirez and the perpetually rehabbing Victor Zambrano. Having used Silva and Hernandez against Italy, Sojo assured himself of using a lesser starter against the U.S., which increases his chances of having to play two more games in this round, thus requiring Zambrano to start against either Canada in a double-elimination game or the U.S. in the seeding game. Zambrano, who posted a 7.17 ERA in 19 minor league appearances (11 of them starts) last year would have been better used against the weak Italian lineup in a game that had no immediate repercussions than against the major league bats of Canada or the U.S. Sojo did manage to save his bullpen by using Silva and Hernandez for a combined eight innings Saturday night, but his bullpen, other than closer Francisco Rodriguez, isn't good enough for him to have prioritized its freshness over Hernandez's availability for a far more important game. I just don't get it at all.

At any rate, it's inexplicably not Felix Hernandez, but Armando Galarraga against Roy Oswalt and Team USA tonight. Galarraga is a fine pitcher in his own right. Roughly equivalent to the USA's fourth starter, Jeremy Guthrie, the 27-year-old Galarraga went 13-7 with a 3.73 ERA as a rookie starter for the Tigers last year. That's fine, and it's entirely possible that Venezuela could upset the U.S. Sunday night, thus avoiding the need to start Zambrano in this round, but it would be far more likely if had they King Felix on the hill.

I'll be back in a bit with the lineups and updates throughout the game.

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