By CIRCLES ROBINSON* for Prensa Latina
HAVANA (17 March 2006) – ONCE AGAIN MEXICO has shown that the United States can be beaten at its own game, ending a possible dream showdown between the US and Cuba in the finals of the World Baseball Classic (WBC).
“Adios, America. There will be no championship for the red, white and blue,” headlined ESPN digital magazine its Friday story on the elimination of the USA Team, a well-assembled pack of Major League aces.
The USA, Mexico and Japan all finished 1-2 in the second round of Pool 1, but Japan won the three-way tiebreaker by allowing five runs in one less inning than the five runs the US allowed in head-to-head competition involving the three teams only.
By winning a tough pitching duel 2-1 on Thursday night, Mexico repeated its ousting of the US from the 2004 Athens Olympics baseball competition in a 2003 qualifying round in Panama by an identical score.
The elimination of Team USA means that South Korea, the only undefeated WBC team, will play a rematch against Japan in the Pool 1 semifinals. The winner will go to the one-game finals against the victor of the game between the Dominican Republic and Cuba.
Both semifinal games are scheduled for Saturday. The finals are set for Monday evening.
Considered the weakest of the four teams in the Pool 1 quarterfinals, Mexico got tremendous results from its seven pitchers to hold Team USA to four hits and striking out four in the last three innings.
Oliver Perez, the Mexican starter allowed just two hits and no runs in three innings and Oscar Villarreal pitched a perfect seventh and eighth.
The American offensive was poor: they stranded runners in the first, second, fourth, fifth, and ninth innings. They were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.
With qualifying for the semifinals on the line, the US didn’t get a hit in the last four innings and after two one out walks in the ninth, slugger Vernon Wells hit into a double play against David Cortes to end the game. Ken Griffey Jr. had struck out to start the inning.
Mexico scored on a two-out hit by Jorge Cantu in the third, driving Mario Valenzuela who had doubled to lead off the inning against losing US pitcher Roger Clemens, considered one of the best hurlers in Major League history.
Clemens got the hook in the fifth with runners on first and third and one out and reliever Scott Shields permitted a sacrifice grounder that permitted the game-winning run, charged to Clemens.
The best team that money could assemble – with a combined star laden payroll of over $150 million dollars – plus the benefit of playing all of their game at home, proved insufficient to beat teams that gave their all and came up with the big games.
US Manager Buck Martinez is under a lot of heat from sports writers for his team’s performance. After getting the boot from the WBC he told the sponsors, “For so long we have been the teachers [of baseball] around the world. Now I think there’s something to be learned from teams like Korea and Japan: execution and work ethic.”
As they promised before the game, the Mexicans gave their best despite having been already eliminated from contending a slot in the semifinals.
Friday is a practice day before the semifinal match-ups on Saturday at San Diego’s Petco Park. For the afternoon game, the Dominican Republic has announced hard-throwing ace Bartolo Colon against Cuba, which is expected to use either Yadel Marti or Pedro Luis Lazo in the starting role.