By TONY SEED
Canada versus the USA is always a compelling match-up in sports, right? And widely covered by the powerful sports media, right?
Classic matches between the Canadian and American Womens’ team at the London Olympics or the men’s and women’s competitions in ice hockey recorded record TV audiences in Canada. Canadians unite to wish for the defeat of the teams fielded by the superpower to the South and success for their national team over the American overlords. When Canada defeated the USA at the 1999 Pan Am Games in Winnipeg, it was dubbed “miracle on grass” by an incredulous sports media, as was Team Canada’s amazing defeat of the high-priced US professionals in the 2006 World Baseball Classic.
Friday’s 2015 Pan American Games baseball match between the Canadian and USA men’s baseball teams was sure to be a compelling draw. Canada is the defending Pan Am Games champions, and was undefeated. The US had lost two games and on the verge of elimination. The stands at virtually every evening and weekend game in the preliminary round, despite the high cost of tickets, have been full with enthusiastic partisans. The new baseball stadium at the Ajax venue, which also includes a softball stadium, seats 4,000 – a capacity that is proving questionable. The game on Friday night was sold out, as are all the semi-final matches on Saturday and the gold and bronze matches on Sunday, when prices increase from $25 to $40 a seat.
This morning’s online editions of the four daily newspapers published in Toronto – Globe & Mail, Toronto Star, National Post and Toronto Sun – did not carry a single word on the game. Instead this annexed media, who have clamoured about the so-called “indifference” of Canadians to the festival of sport of the Americas, which it denigrates as not being “world class,” headlined either the Canadian medal count, a “world class” baseball game from a US professional league, or some golf tournament in Scotland.
As Canadians streamed out to their cars following the Canada v Cuba 3-1 match-up on Tuesday, I overheard some asking, “How come every game is being shown on TV in Havana, yet there is nothing on Canadian TV?” The hourly coverage by Cuban TV seemed to be a well-known fact!
On Friday, the CBC as the host broadcaster finally responded to such broad criticism by announcing that it was expanding its coverage by adding another 12 hours a week. Yet the CBC did not even livestream the Canada v USA game, nor will it be broadcasting the semi-final USA v Cuba game. One had to consult the twitter feed of Baseball Canada to keep up with the game.
On the field, Team USA (4-2) took away Canada’s unbeaten status on Friday, winning 4-1. The result was somewhat of a shock, because the American colossus had fallen to both Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.The standout player was U.S. southpaw Nate Smith, who on Tuesday gave the Cuban team only two hits over six innings. Smith was assisted by his team’s final pitcher of the night, Paul Sewald, who pitched the final three outs, including two strikeouts. Canada actually out hit the US eight to seven with Pete Orr (Newmarket, ON), Tim Smith (Toronto, ON) and Rene Tosoni (Port Coquitlam, BC) collecting two apiece, but the Canadian team left nine men on base without bringing them home, leaving two runners on in the sixth and the bases loaded in the seventh.
The result gives the USA a second life, as it used the win over Canada to avoid elimination “We had some opportunities but didn’t get the timely hits, however, we were able to save the bull pen,” rationalized Canadian Manager Ernie Whitt of the failure to put away Team USA once and for all. Whitt, an American, former catcher and longtime employee of the US MLB who has been managing the Canadian national team for 16 years, has a history of taking a laissez-faire approach towards clutch games, including the USA.
Despite the Canadians’ setback on Friday, the host team finished in first place overall with 5 wins and one loss. Cuba ranks second, the U.S. third and Puerto Rico fourth, with a 4-2 win-loss total each.
The semifinals ranking takes into account the total runs each team allowed. Cuba gave up six total (5 for the United States and 1 for Puerto Rico), the U.S. gave up 12 (2 for Cuba and 10 for Puerto Rico), and Puerto Ricans gave up 17 (9 for the U.S. and 8 for Cuba).
The semifinal game between Canada (5-1), the defending Pan Am Games champion, and Puerto Rico (4-2) takes place on Saturday at 7:05 p.m. (ET). On July 16 Canada pounded out 15 hits including home runs from Brock Kjeldgaard (London, ON), Tyler O’Neill (Maple Ridge, BC) and Tyson Gillies (Vancouver, BC), and received six solid innings on the mound from starter Chris Leroux (Mississauga, ON) en route to an 11-4 win over Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rican Anthony Garcia has made a harvest at the plate, leading three major departments. Garcia leads with five home runs and 16 RBIs, while his slugging is 1,150. Nevertheless, veteran pitching by the likes of Jeff Francis and Shawn Hill and the young RHP Phillippe Aumont (Gatineau, QC), a MLB free agent, who is expected to start on the mound for Canada, has been Canada’s strong suit.
The USA will now meet its eternal rival Cuba in the other semifinal game of the tournament at 1:05 p.m. (ET).
The game is being broadcast LIVE here by the Cuba Pan Am Games blog.
The US defeated Cuba 5-2 on Sunday in a closely-played match that could have gone either way.
The USA may have owned the field but the Cubans owned the stands. I estimated 80 per cent of the Cuban and Canadian spectators were cheering for Team Cuba. Not a few of the Cuban fans had come from Florida for the tournament, defying the media stereotype of “Cuban Americans.”
Two Cubans are leading the tournament in hitting and pitching, the veteran third baseman Rudy Reyes, who leads in batting average with .565 (23-13), followed closely by Pedro Feliz, who makes for .526 (19-10). The young rookie Cuban left-hander Livan Moinelo leads the tournament pitchers, allowing an earned run average (PCL) with untouchable 0.00 (9.0-0). Seven other men also have a 0.00 ERA but Moinelo has pitched the most innings.
Another bright note is that Cuban sluggers Alfredo Despaigne and Frederich Cepeda are finally hitting. During both matches against the USA and Cuba, when behind by three and two runs respectively, the Cuban sluggers went down in the 8th and 9th innings to called third strikes, leaving the bat on their shoulders without swinging. Despaigne has hit three home runs in the past three games.
The US Team is led by Travis Jankowski, Tyler Pastornicky and Andrew Parriño, all three among the top ten qualifying round batters. In team statistics the USA hit .279 to Cuba’s .268 in the 6-game qualifying round. On the mound the USA pitchers had a combined 3.44 ERA to Cuba’s 3.74.
The winners will square off for the title on Sunday at 7:05 p.m. and the losers for the bronze medal at 1:05 p.m.
Good luck to all the players!