Canada slipped on the edge of history, giving up a late lead and falling 9-4 to the United States on Sunday in a must-win game that eliminated the team from the World Baseball Classic.
Down 3-2 in the eighth inning, Adam Jones hit a two-run double off reliever Jim Henderson to give the U.S. its first lead of the game before Shane Victorino scored Jones on a single for a 5-3 lead.
Jonathan Lucroy added an insurance RBI and Eric Hosmer hit a three-run double off Canadian closer John Axford in the ninth that put the result beyond doubt.
Canada had pulled to within one after Adam Loewen hit a bases-loaded RBI in the bottom of the eighth inning, but pinch hitter Tim Smith grounded out to end the inning and ultimately Canada’s tournament.
“We played a tough game and obviously the U.S. came out on top, but we’re holding our heads high,” said Canadian outfielder Michael Saunders. “We came to this tournament prepared and we felt like we played well. A few innings didn’t go our way, but I think we played well and I think we showed the world that Canada is here to stay.
Canada controlled Sunday’s game until Jones’s hit, with Saunders hitting a two-run homer in the second inning and Loewen’s single putting Canada ahead 3-2 in the sixth.
But U.S. relievers Heath Bell, David Hernandez, Steve Cishek and closer Craig Kimbrel stifled Canada’s offence while American batters did the rest.
Canada (1-2), which has never advanced past the first round, began the tournament with a humiliating 14-4 loss to Italy that ended after eight innings due to the 10-run mercy rule. But the team fought back, literally, in the second game against Mexico with a 10-3 victory capped by a bench-clearing brawl.
The victory is a relief for the U.S. (2-1), which opened the tournament with a 5-2 loss to Mexico (1-2) but rallied back with a 6-2 win over Italy (2-1), which also advanced. The next round begins Tuesday in Miami.
“Yeah, no, I’m not happy with the results,” said manager Ernie Whitt. “I thought it was a good ballgame. They got some key hits in timely situations, and so you tip your hat to them.”
Canada didn’t need long to figure out U.S. starter Derek Holland. In the second inning Justin Morneau hit a leadoff double on the first pitch he saw, then on the next at-bat Saunders launched a rocket to right field to give Canada a 2-0 lead.
For all the anticipation of Joey Votto’s eventual commitment to Canada, Saunders turned out to be the team’s star — being named the most valuable player of Pool D.
“It’s definitely an honour,” said Saunders. “However, it’s kind of a sour taste in my mouth right now. Whenever you represent your country, it really doesn’t matter how you do, as long as you win. And that was the main focus today.”
Playing in his first WBC, the Victoria native entered the game leading the tournament’s opening round with an incredible .857 batting average, followed by Morneau’s stellar .714 average.
Starting pitcher Jameson Taillon, meanwhile, proved effective for Canada through four innings of work. The Pittsburgh Pirates’ highly-prized prospect struck out Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Braun in a 1-2-3 third, but poor defence helped the U.S. tie the game in the fourth.
Third baseman Taylor Green earned his second error of the game after grabbing a Ben Zobrist bunt but throwing too low to first base. The ball bounced off the mound, allowing Joe Mauer to score. On the next at-bat, Jones hit a sacrifice fly to bring home David Wright and tie the game at two.
Dustin Molleken was another bright spot for Canada at the tournament. The Regina native, who plays in Japan, was tidy in shutting down U.S. batters with just one hit in the fifth and sixth innings.
That set up Canada to go ahead in the sixth. Votto walked and was eventually moved to third. He scored on a drive to right-centre by Loewen for a 3-2 lead, delighting a crowd of 22,425 at Chase Field that often seemed to be divided between the teams.
Notes: Canadian Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins and Ken Griffey Jr. each threw out the first pitch. ... Total attendance for Pool D play in Arizona was 115, 183.