Canada blows late lead to USA and is eliminated from WBC: Griffin
PHOENIX-The USA is moving on. Canada is going home. Attempting to advance to the second round of the World Baseball Classic for the first time in three tries, Canada lost a heartbreaking 9-4 decision to a talented group of Americans, in a sudden-death showdown on Sunday at Chase Field.
Team Canada had been in control of its own destiny after the seventh inning. They reached the point in the game that manager Ernie Whitt always dreamed of, heading to the eighth with a lead and with Jim Henderson and John Axford ready to close out the game. The back end of the bullpen was what made Canada better.
But, of course, that's why they play the games. The Brewers' setup man, Henderson allowed the first two American batters to reach base, then a two run double to Adam Jones past Tyson Gillies to the wall and a run-scoring single by Shane Victorino gave them their first lead. Jones added another three-run double in the ninth, for six RBIs.
The win sent heavily-favoured Team USA on to Miami along with Team Italy from Pool D. The USA is now the only North American representative to reach the second round. Canada will have to wait another four years. The Canadian bullpen allowed a combined 15 runs from the seventh inning on in their two losses to Italy and the U.S.
Even in defeat, Canada battled to the end. Trailing by two in the bottom of the eighth, Canada loaded the bases with one out against righthander David Hernandez.
It would have been sweet for Adam Loewen to be the hero, returning to Chase Field for the first time since he defeated Team USA as a pitcher in a thrilling 8-6 victory in 2006. He was almost a hero, again, but second baseman Brandon Phillips dove to his left to rob the Canadian left fielder of a hit, leaving Canada a one-run deficit.
Reliever Steve Cishek entered to issue an intentional walk to Pete Orr, re-loading the bases. Tim Smith then pinch-hit for Cale Iorg, who was 1-for-11 in the tournament. Smith grounded to second. The Americans added a run against Scott Mathieson in the ninth.
No shame. Following the embarrassing defeat at the hands of Team Italy on Friday, nobody, except those in the dugout wearing Team Canada uniforms, would have imagined being still alive and taking a lead into the eighth inning against the powerful Americans, with six outs to go and a real chance to advance.
How did they get to that point? Seven years ago, on March 8, 2006, Loewen was a young 21-year-old pitching prospect, starting the biggest game of his life vs. Team USA. On Sunday, facing a different, but just as talented group of American players, Loewen, now an outfielder, had lined the go-ahead single for Canada in the sixth inning scoring Joey Votto, against lefty Glen Perkins. That was the lead they needed to protect.
But to even get the ball into Henderson's hands with that lead, reliever Phillippe Aumont pulled off another Houdini escape in the seventh. With runners on second and third and one out, Aumont got a popup and a groundball to third with a nice play by Taylor Green. Recall that in a loss to Team USA at the Rogers Centre in 2009, Aumont loaded the bases and then retired the side, including two strikeouts.
After Team USA tied the score in the fourth, Canada had needed a major re-group. Any baseball emotion, momentum or karma left over from the huge, sprawling, brawling victory over Mexico the night before, only carried Canada through the first three innings, Sunday.
Canada had led 2-0 behind 21-year-old Jameson Taillon, making his firtst internationals start for Canada. He was electric through the first three innings, but in the fourth, some shoddy defence led to Team USA tying the score and after that the aura was gone, it was “game on.”
Leading off the bottom of the second, Justin Morneau rocketed a double up the alley in right centre field. Michael Saunders followed with a long flyball home run that just stayed fair inside the right field pole. They were Canada's two best player. Canada led 2-0, but should have had more.
Chris Robinson and Loewen singled back-to-back and an error on the hit by left fielder Shane Victorino put runners on second and third, with nobody out. But Canada failed to score. Back in 2006, when Canada upset Team USA 8-6 at the same ballpark, they had taken an 8-0 lead against Dontrelle Willis and Al Leiter into the bottom of the fifth and even that was almost not enough.
Canada remembers that history. A total of nine members of this Team Canada were also in the dugout on March 8, 2006 when they shocked the baseball world. The list included manager Ernie Whitt and coach Greg Hamilton; Morneau, Stubby Clapp, Pete Orr, Chris Robinson, Adam Loewen, Scott Mathieson and Paul Quantrill. Clapp and Quantrill are now coaches. Loewen was a pitcher.
That early premonition of not enough runs proved prophetic in the fourth inning as Team USA pulled even wth a pair of runs against Taillon. With two on and nobody out, Green became confused by the bunt defence. Playing in on the grass, as Zobrist pushed one towards third, Green inexplicably retreated towards the bag. By the time he came back and made the play, Zobrist was safe and the low throw bounced away from Votto scoring the first run. Adam Jones tied the game with a sacrifice fly.