Thursday March 12th, 2009

1. The New York Mets had to like what they saw from closer Francisco Rodriguez in Venezuela's 5-3 victory [Recap | Box Score] over Team USA on Wednesday night. Okay, it was a typical K-Rod save: he walked the leadoff batter and wound up bringing the winning run to the plate, all before fanning Kevin Youkilis to close the deal. But for a guy whose velocity dipped last season, Rodriguez hit 95 mph on the radar gun and sat consistently at 92-93 mph. Not bad at all for the ides of March.

Rodriguez did speak about the adrenaline rush of pitching with "Venezuela" across his jersey. "I feel that right now," he said, "I'm at another level, to wear the Venezuela jersey. It's totally different."

But K-Rod also emphasized that the ankle injury that nagged him last season no longer is an issue. Said Rodriguez when asked about the improved velocity, "This year I feel healthy. I don't have the ankle problem I had last year. I feel totally different. I feel 100 percent healthy. So it's not because I am playing against the U.S. It's because I worked so hard in the winter to make sure I get back to where I should be."

2. After turning down media requests Tuesday and planning to do likewise Wednesday, Rodriguez, after intervention from a players association official, agreed to show up in the informal interview area after the game. He made no secret about why he did not want to speak to the media, blaming the Venezuela media for being harsh on the team after its 15-6 opening game loss to the Americans. "They're trying to stick it to is," Rodriguez said. "You ask anybody in that clubhouse and they'll tell you the same thing."

Rodriguez even showed a sense of humor in front of reporters. When asked if he was glad at the moment he was not Dominican, a reference to the Dominican Republic's crushing 2-1 defeat to the Netherlands, Rodriguez replied, "Trust me, a lot of players don't want to be Dominican right now because of that game."

3. USA manager Davey Johnson, having been fired from his last big league job three years earlier with the Los Angeles Dodgers, said he was "completely burned out from baseball" when he received a call from a friend in 2003. The Dutch national team was about to lose its manager, former big leaguer Robert Eenhoorn, because Eenhoorn's 6-year-old son was terminally ill with cancer. The team needed an interim manager for an Olympic qualifying tournament. "I couldn't say no," Johnson said.

Johnson, then 60, agreed to run the team and immediately flew to Europe.

"The next day, his son died," Johnson said, "and I attended the funeral. It was a very traumatic time to go over there. ... We ended up qualifying for the Olympics."

Eenhoorn returned to manage the team in the Olympics. Johnson served as his bench coach. It was the start of a new chapter in Johnson's life. The experience ignited what has been a successful international managing career for Johnson, who went on to manage the U.S. team at the 2005 World Cup (in the Netherlands), the 2007 World Cup (where it won the gold medal) and the 2008 Olympics (bronze).

"I love baseball," Johnson said, reflecting on how the Netherlands gave him a second act to his baseball managing career, "and it brought back a lot of good memories."

Johnson could see many of his former Dutch players in the Round 2 pool in Miami.

4. Team USA will face Puerto Rico on Saturday night in their opening game of Round 2 (which will pit modern Yankee legends Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams on opposite teams). Venezuela gets the Netherlands. No word yet on whether Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano will be added to the Venezuelan roster for the second round. ... The U.S. played a predictably flat game against Venezuela, considering it had two days off and had already played itself into the second round. The at-bats were not crisp, the defense was a tad slow and Jeremy Guthrie (four runs, two innings) was as rusty as you might expect given his lack of work. Jimmy Rollins, Dustin Pedroia, Youkilis, David Wright and Adam Dunn went a combined 0-for-18. ... Mark DeRosa was unavailable because of flu-like symptoms that have dogged the team in recent days. ... Venezuela travels well. The Venezuela fans outnumbered and out-shouted the U.S. fans in the crowd of 12,358. Next up: Miami, which will seem even more like a home game. "Oh, that's going to be real nice," infielder Marco Scutaro said. "There are a lot of Venezuelans in Miami." ... Jeter was thrown out on the back half of a double-steal attempt as the potential tying run in the ninth inning -- even when Venezuela wasn't holding him on. "Can't get thrown out there," he said. Jeter was not running off a sign, but read the jump of the runner on second base, Rollins. Catcher Henry Blanco, one of the finest defensive catchers in the game, made a terrific throw. Asked if he didn't steal enough room with his lead, Jeter said, "Apparently not."

5. Honest mistake or Freudian slip? The Venezuelans gave a birthday greeting to outfielder Bobby Abreu on the Rogers Centre videoboard. "Happy 38th Birthday!" Abreu, not exactly looking svelte these days, is listed as having turned 35 Wednesday.

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