USA rallies past Canada late to advance in Classic
Jones hits go-ahead two-run double in eighth before Americans break it open in ninth
PHOENIX -- Team USA is going to Miami, and oh what a relief it is.
With a spot in the second round of the World Baseball Classic on the line, the U.S. came from behind twice on Sunday to defeat Canada, 9-4, at Chase Field. The Americans, who scored three times in the eighth to decide the game on an Adam Jones two-run double and Shane Victorino's RBI single, will move on to Marlins Park from Pool D along with Italy to meet the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
First baseman Eric Hosmer put the game out of reach with a bases-clearing double in the top of the ninth inning off Canada closer John Axford.
The Americans narrowly avoided their earliest exit from the tournament, now in its third running. They've never finished higher than fourth. The Canadians still haven't made it out of the first round. Mexico was the other team that didn't survive the pool this weekend.
"Well, it's not a relief, because we have been teasing ourselves," U.S. manager Joe Torre said. "Last night [in a 6-2 win over Italy], we had the one big inning. We had too many opportunities [today] with too many good people up at the plate. We really don't have a soft spot in that lineup. I guess we have to get behind to all of a sudden think about it. But they were very aggressive today and it really helped us."
The tournament won't get any easier. The U.S. is the top seed out of this bracket heading to Miami and will play an 8 p.m. ET game on Tuesday against Puerto Rico. Italy will play the Dominican Republic in the 1 p.m. ET game. The games will all be broadcast nationally by MLB Network and ESPN Deportes.
As opposed to the round-robin format in the first round, the next round will be double-elimination, meaning the teams to win two games each advance and the teams which lose twice are out.
The defending two-time Classic champion Japanese were the first team to qualify for the semifinals on either March 17 or 18 in San Francisco's AT&T Park. The final game is there on March 19.
Like its first games, the U.S. fell behind by two runs early as Canada took a 2-0 lead in the second inning on a two-run homer by Michael Saunders off left-hander Derek Holland, who went five innings, allowing four hits and left with the score tied at 2.
Saunders, the Mariners' right fielder, was named Most Valuable Player of the pool after going 8-for-11 with seven RBIs in the three games.
"It's definitely an honor," Saunders said. "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. We played a tough game, and obviously the U.S. came out on top, but we're holding our heads high. 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."
The U.S., which lost its opener to Mexico in the pool and then came back to defeat Italy and Canada, had numerous chances to score on Sunday. The Americans squandered runners in scoring position in the first, second and seventh innings, finally breaking through to take the lead against reliever Jimmy Henderson in the eighth.
The U.S. was trailing, 3-2, and had runners on first and second moving as Henderson delivered to Jones, who lined the pitch into left-center for the double that gave America the lead for good. Victorino, 0-for-3 in the game and 0-for-11 with the Red Sox this spring coming into the Classic, singled home Jones.
With Jones at the plate, Torre had just sent Willie Bloomquist to second to run for Joe Mauer. It was Bloomquist who read the play and took off on the pitch with David Wright at first base trailing.
"Knowing Bloomquist and Wright, those are guys who are perennial basestealers," Jones said. "I played with Bloomy in Seattle, and any time he gets on base, he doesn't want to stay on that base too long. It was a good pitch for him to go on and it was a good pitch for me to hit. I was glad that I didn't try and do too much, didn't get distracted by the runners, and just was able to put a good swing on a good pitch to hit."
For Canada, the loss was just another bitter pill. In 2009 at Toronto, the U.S. won the opener of the pool at Rogers Centre against the Canadians, effectively sending them on to elimination. Again this year, Canada lost its opener, 14-4, to Italy in a game that ended in the eighth inning because of the 10-run mercy rule.
Canada redeemed itself on Saturday by defeating Mexico in a game that was marred by a benches-clearing incident in the ninth inning.
Both the U.S. and Canada had to play themselves out of 0-1 holes to get to this single-elimination confrontation. And in the end, it turned out to be too much for Canada.
"I think it's exciting for baseball, to be honest with you," long-time Canada manager Ernie Whitt said. "Did we want to get mercied in the first game? Absolutely not. But it happened. And like I said yesterday, Mexico did us a favor by beating the U.S., which just gave us an opportunity. We knew what we had to do, we just fell short today.
"I'm not happy with the results. I thought it was a good ballgame. They got some key hits in timely situations, and so you tip your hat to them."
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow@boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.