PERHAPS Canada should stick to lacrosse and ski cross. While Mexico soundly defeated Team USA 5-2, a second US team posing in the uniforms of the Azzuri drubbed Canada 14-4 at the World Baseball Classic today.
The mercy rule, comprehensive national humiliation is simple enough to explain on the surface: atrocious pitching, lack of key hits from the Canadian major leaguers – especially the two former MLB MVPs in Joey Votto and Justin Morneau (with the notable exception of young Michael Saunders from Victoria, BC who had two hits and a pair of RBIs on the day) – errors of judgment, and aggressive hitting by “Italy” backed up by adequate pitching and defence.
The bats of the minor-league Americans made enough noise to fill up the ballpark with a 17-hit outburst. Only one player on the team, Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, didn’t get a hit, and he worked two walks, scored two runs and drove in another with an RBI groundout in the first inning.
Shawn Hill opened for Canada, giving up a run on three hits in that first inning, handing “Italy” a lead they would never relinquish. He was effective after that – although every “Italian” batter put wood on the ball – but it presaged the rest of the game: Canada had to play catch-up and against an increasing gap. The Canadian batters also continuously put wood on the ball against starting pitcher Alex Maestri of the Orix Buffaloes of Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan, but failed to put him away. He went three innings and gave up only one run while striking out three.
Before the Toronto sports media, having feasted on catcher Russell Martin (who has now been recast as a “French-Canadian” even though he was bon in East York), makes manager Ernie Whitt its next sacrificial lamb, let’s be clear that the affable American deserves credit for managing the national team to winning the gold medal at the 2012 PanAm Games over Cuba and the USA, qualifying for this tournament and Canada’s 6th ranked status in the world, as of January 2013.
However, this was a game seemingly lost by the passivity of the manager, which doesn’t cut it in single game elimination play. Mr Witt has a tendency to count birds in the bush before they are in the hand.
The pitch count rules in the Classic are as bizarre as the mercy rule (which is abandoned in the final rounds) and designed to favour the US major-leaguers but once you’ve accepted them you have to play by them. With two outs in the third inning after 47 pitches and the score tied 1-1, Mr Whitt removed Shawn Hill in order to have him ready to start Game 1 of the second round on Tuesday. Sixty pitches and he would have had be kept out of action an extra day. Sorry, Ernie, we won’t be needing any pitchers on Tuesday now. The scenario bore an eery resemblance to the second win-or-else Canada v Italy game in 2009 when he withheld Canada’s best pitcher, Scott Richmond, for a later opportunity which never materialized, about which I wrote at the time.
Mr Hill had worked out of a jam by inducing a double play ball. With a runner on third, replacement Scott Mathieson, who pitched in Japan in 2012, walked Mr Rizzo, gave up a bloop single to Alex Liddi and then surrendered a three-run homer to Chris Colabello, who played for Minnesota’s Double-A club last year. All in all, Mr Witt left Mr Mathieson in to pitch to 11 batters even though he clearly didn’t have it today (7 of 11 reached base). Canada trailed 5-1.
Mr Whitt’s tactic to use a sacrifice bunt when Canada was down 6-2 will also be questioned by members of the Cito Gaston school of baseball. But not by this writer; I do not know the tendencies of the batters, do not like to speculate, and I am not an advocate of the U.S. power approach, especially in elimination games. The scenario involved Canada with leadoff runners on first and second, and had two left-handed batters coming up against Chris Cooper, a lefty pitcher (we didn’t score a run that inning). Catcher Chris Robinson, one of just two right-handed hitters in the lineup, bunted the two runners over, even as Canada trailed by four runs. The next two batters, Adam Loewen and Pete Orr went out meekly, on a strike out and pop up to third respectively. The contrarians argue the percentages, that the right-handed batter should have been given the green light to hit, rather than taking an out in order to advance the two runners 90 feet closer to home.
And on and on and on… In the seventh inning, the Canadians stubbornly battled back, narrowing the lead to just two runs after Canada cut the lead to 6-4 on a bases-loaded single by Michael Saunders. “Italy” answered right back. The bullpen could not hemorrhage the bleeding.
“Every time we got close, they came back the next inning and put some runs on the board,” Mr Whitt said. “In a game of baseball, you have to have some shutdown innings, and we weren’t able to do that.”
Mr Colabello then got things started in the bottom of the seventh with a two-out single, Mike Costanzo (Nationals) walked, Mario Chiarini singled in a run and Twins catcher Drew Butera gave Italy all the insurance it would need with a two-run double that made it 9-4.
“Italy” scored six more runs in the eighth to end it. The game seemed to be over via the 10-run mercy rule when Mr Costanzo’s fly to left field with the bases loaded was ruled a grand slam. However, the umpires reversed it after a video revew and ruled it a two-run ground-rule double to make it 13-4. That became moot when Mr Chiarini hit what ended up being a walk-off RBI single.
Even if Canada were to win the next two games, they will be undoubtedly eliminated once again because of run differential, although nothing is impossible. Canadian athletes have a never-say-die attitude. Manager Marco Mazzieri’s club is now 2-0, and if it conquers the United States on Saturday, it is assured of moving on to the second round of the Classic, set for Marlins Park in Miami. And even if “Italy” loses that game, it will still be 2-1 and a contender to advance depending on the other teams’ results and run-differential totals.
Of the 16 teams in the Classic, four are composed of Americans: Italy, Spain, Puerto Rico* and Team USA.
“Spain,” on which only one player has Spanish citizenship – and he was born in the Canary Islands – qualified for the tournament by eliminating “Israel”, which was exclusively composed of Jewish Americans.
“Italy” actually has a major league infielder who was born and raised in Italy.
That is Seattle Mariners third baseman Alex Liddi, who grew up in San Remo. Only seven of its players were actually born in Italy, up from zero in 2009. Italy also has an ambidextrous pitcher who grew up in that most famed of Neapolitan cities – Omaha, Neb. – and who obtained his WBC eligibility by documenting his lineage back to an Italian great-grandfather through birth, marriage and death certificates, according to an EPSN report. “The spelling of the family name has changed about three different times,” New York Yankees prospect Pat Venditte says. “It started with an ‘o’ at the end. Then it went to an ‘i’ and now we use an ‘e.’”**
MLB’s elastic concept of citizenship and sovereignty is imperialist. There are many other aspects of the WBC that are suspect and even sinister. One can ask why the US is playing in the weakest of the four-team groups (Group D); why the US moved its venue from the Rogers Centre in Toronto to home territory in Scottsdale, Arizona; why it has placed “Spain” in the powerful Caribbean group playing in Puerto Rico; and why it has placed number one ranked Cuba and the seventh-ranked Kingdom of the Netherlands (2011 world champions but which includes the territories of the Netherlands Antilles, so it draws on Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten) in the Asian Group now playing in Japan.
Major League Baseball, seeking world supremacy, tilted the level of the playing field in violation of the modern norms of competition, which is neither the fault of Mr Witt nor the players. Nor was it their fault that the Pittsburgh Pirates acted to keep Mr Martin from participating in the Classic, and thereby tampered with Canada’s national team selection with the collusion of the Canadian government, Sports Canada and the sports media.
As I wrote in 2009, “Baseball Canada, which extensively collaborates with the Rogers-owned Toronto Blue Jays, capitulated to the U.S. baton in the meetings of the baseball federations to organize the Classic and became one of its first casualties.” More about that later. Good luck to our athletes and all the players.
– Tony Seed is co-author with Curtis Coward of The Kids’ Baseball Book (Halifax: New Media Publications, 1994)
* Colonized Puerto Rico has something called sports sovereignty.
** Canada is not above raiding other countries. Under the unique citizenship rules of the tournament, pitcher Jameson Taillon qualified for Canada, even though he was born in Winter Haven, Florida and grew up in The Woodlands, Texas. His parents were from Canada.