WBC: Canada takes fight-filled decision over Mexico setting up showdown with USA :Griffin
PHOENIX-Less than 24 hours after the Team Canada train fell off the tracks against Italy, a stunned group of baseball players needed a fast start on Saturday against Mexico to getback some of that national esprit de corps into the first-base dugout. Fortunately, in the top of the first inning they did just that, scoring four runs against Brewers' righthander Marco Estrada with the big boys in the order doing their thing.
Canada on the way to a 10-3 victory that sets up a showdown with Team USA, scored four runs in the first to bring some of their pre-tournament swagger back. They strung together five straight hits, capped by an RBI double by Justin Morneau, a two-run single by Michael Saunders and a line drive over a drawn-in infield by catcher Chris Robinson. But they needed more.
While Marco Estrada settled down and kept Canada at four runs, followed by lefty Cesar Ramos, Mexico began its rally. After allowing an unearned run on an errant first-inning throw by first baseman Joey Votto, righthander Chris Leroux settled down and finished three just at his pitch count.
The key defensive play for Canada, that allowed them to hold onto a one-run lead, came when Robinson blocked the plate as he took a throw from Tyson Gillies. Trying to score from second base, Karim Garcia crashed into the Canadian catcher. Robinson never tagged him, bu Garcia never touched the plate and when he reached the dugout he was the first out of the inning.
Earlier in the inning, Robinson had been felled by a foul tip to the high, inner thigh that left him doubled over on the ground. A couple of pitches later, came the bone-shaking collision. Canada has just two catchers on the roster, so could ill afford to lose their starter.
Mexico scored two more runs in the fourth, before Andrew Albers could escape, but Canada still held onto a slim 4-3 lead. At the end of that first Albers inning, and looking back to Phillipe Aumont retiring the first two batters in the seventh vs. Italy, facing 16 batters, Canada's bullpen had allowed 11 hits, two walks and 10 runs, while recording four outs.
Canada was going to need more runs if it was going to survive and remain alive. In the fifth inning they finally broke through again against lefthander Cesar Ramos. Using a familar strategy, manager Ernie Whitt asked Robinson to bunt, following a leadoff double by Saunders. Again, as he had done the day before, Robinson laid down a perfect sacrifice to third base. After a walk to Adam Loewen, Pete Orr singled through the right side for the fifth Canada run.
Recall, the day before vs. Italy, Whitt had bunted in the fourth inning, with runners on first and second, trailing by four runs. Then, with two men in scoring position, Loewen struck out and Orr popped to third base. Italy went on to overpower the bullpen and win 14-4. Whitt stuck with the strategy, but this time he was trying to extend a one-run lead in the sixth – and did.
Albers, who has had a solid 12 months for Team Canada, settled down to shut Mexico down through the sixth. Then in the top of the seventh the heart of the order did it again for Canada. Morneay crushed a line drive up the alley in right-centre, scoring Taylor Green, who had walked. It was Morneau's second hit and secon RBI of the game. Canada added another on a fielder's choice.
But the seventh and eighth is where Canada's bullpen hit the wall on Friday, allowing eight runs while recording four outs. This time, with a four-run lead, Whitt handed the ball to Trystan Magnuson.
The lanky great-nephew of the late hockey star Keith Magnuson, was asked to pitch two innings and then hand the game over to Canadian closer, John Axford. Normally the eighth inning would belong to Brewers' righthander Jim Henderson, but he had pitched against Italy on Friday and Magnuson had already breezed through the seventh vs. Mexico.
Canada's offence made it easier, tacking on a pair of runs in the top of the eighth, as Mornau and Saunders each collected his fourth hit of the afternoon. In fact, the 2-5 spots in the batting order, Green, Votto, Morneau and Saunders, combined to go 12-for-17 with three walks.
The game got ugly in the top of the ninth inning, as a hockey game broke out. Ithe ill feelings started when Robinson led off the ninth with a bunt single leading 9-3. The Mexican pitcher Arnold Leon reacted by throwing inside to Rene Tosoni with Gorman warning both benches. The next pitch hit Tosoni and the fireworks exploded.
This was not one of those fake baseball fights. This was a hockey brawl. Numerous punches were thrown and skirmishes erupted in ebbs and flows all over the field. As Canada retreated to its dugout, they began playing to the crowd, waving to the Canadians to raise the roof and tugging at the front of their jerseys to show the Canada name. It was about then that a water bottle was fired and hit pitching coach Denis Boucher in the back of the neck at full force.
That created further bedlam as one of the Canadians fired the offending water bottle at someone in the stands, while Boucher had to be held back as he tried to climb over the dugout.
When action resumed, it seemed that only Leon and Tosoni were tossed, but the confrontaton continued in the stands as fights erupted all around Chase Field. A dangerous moment occured when a ball was thrown from the stands thast sailed past first-base coach Larry Walker's ear and rolled onto the field.
John Axford came on for the ninth.