Another great World Baseball Classic contest, featuring a whole slew of 'personal firsts', at games I've attended:
- First grand-slam
- First inside-the-park home run
- First three hits by Canada were all triples*
- First appearance by Mr. and Mrs. Snakepit on the Jumbotron. :-)
All told, not a bad day, and of course, it's always enormously satisfying to see Team USA get taken down a peg or two. Did seem a little strange at first, to be cheering for Canada, when we'd been opposing them less than 24 hours previously, during the South Africa game. But this feeling of schizophrenia lasted exactly one batter: then the smug face of Derek Jeter ambled to the plate, and I suddenly was more Canadian than Wayne Gretzky after he's downed a six-pack of Molson.
Chase Field seemed a little disorganized: we tried first to get food at Taste of the Majors, but food seemed to appear as if the hot dogs were delivered by a reluctant glacier, so we eventually bailed, only to be stymied by the playing of the US National Anthem. Apparently, the concession stands on the inside of the concourse all stop serving while this takes place: yes, if I am served my Italian beef sandwich during the rocket's red glare, then the terrorists will have won, dammit. I noticed no such lull for the Canadian anthem, and also, the merchandise stalls continued with unabashed zeal. Patriotism only goes so far, I imagine.
Our seats were almost twice as expensive as the ones at Scottsdale, and about seven times as far from the Canadian dugout. Still not bad though, looking down the 1B-2B line, just behind the walkway that separated our seats from the expensive seats. This demarcation was rigorously enforced by the guardians of the walkway, who enforced a strict "none shall pass!" policy, worthy of the Black Knight in Holy Grail (albeit with less arterial spurting). And they didn't care how many beers you were carrying: no ticket stub = no entry. Not even the "I left it at my seat" excuse cut any ice there.
Dontrelle Willis started for America, and while I like him, it was unspeakably nice to see the man who robbed Webb of the 2004 Rookie of the Year get lit up like a freakin' Christmas tree. I mean, even our favorite Canadian, Stubby Clapp, smacked a triple off Dontrelle. All told, Willis allowed five runs on six hits in 2 2/3 innings, before hitting his pitch limit of 65. Al Leiter replaced him, but was hardly any better, and in the middle of the fifth, the Canadians were 8-0 up, and in serious danger of inflicting the biggest thrashing of America on home turf since Custer.
Meanwhile, an A-ball pitcher, Adam Loewen, was keeping some of the biggest names in baseball in check [A-Rod wasn't even named in the starting lineup] with a combination of solid pitching, good defence, and good fortune. Chipper Jones grounded into a double-play with the bases loaded in the bottom of the first, and one suspects that had that got through the infield, the flood-gates might have opened. But they didn't, and the Canadian scored every inning, while the US posted goose-eggs, capped by Adam Stern's inside-the-park home run after Matt Holiday got crippled lunging for a ball in left-field.
We sat back, handed out lucite maple leaves to like-minded (and jerseyed) individuals, and enjoyed ourselves. In front of us were a bunch of Bostoners on a road trip, who were just as loud in favour of America, as we were for Canada, but it was all totally good-natured. The usual ballpark activities took place, but with a WBC twist: for example, instead of the cars racing each other, it was three animated baseballs on a footrace around the 16 competing countries. Let the record show that Green won. May that be an omen for the season: Shawn or Andy, I don't care. :-)
In the bottom of the fifth, the Americans struck back. At first, it didn't seem initially too threatening, though odd to hear a crowd go wild with enthusiasm, for an eight-run deficit getting cut to six. That wasn't the end of it: the bases were loaded up for Jason Varitek: I've never been so nervous with a six-run lead, and a sense of pervasive doom spread over the Canadian supporters. Varitek duly delivered, smacking a 448-foot long bomb, after some deep flies had narrowly failed to get out, and cut the deficit to two runs. The Boston boys were very happy.
All the momentum was with the American team now, but they just couldn't get any closer. After allowing Varitek's slam, Eric Cyr was brilliant on the mound for Canada, striking out Derrek Lee and Alex Rodriguez, back-to-back, and retiring seven hitters in a row. And when the US threatened again in the eighth, Stern, a Rule 5 pickup by Boston, made a fabulous grab in deep-center of Chase Utley's deep drive, to preserve the lead.
Not that Canada could score either, once they got past the likes of, er, Gary Majewski on the mound. [Yes, there's surely something very wrong with the selection process there.] The closest they came was Radmanovitch trying to score from first on a double by Morneau. However, patrolling right field for Team USA was Jeff Francoeur, and Luis Gonzalez could tell you, from multiple personal experience, what happens when you try to challenge that arm. Yep: thrown out at the plate.
The ninth arrived, with Canada clinging to a two-run lead. Where was Eric Gagne when we needed him most, especially with Francoeur, Derrek Lee and A-Rod coming up. Instead, it was Steve Green - a 47th round draft pick in 1995, with a 4.94 ERA in the minors, one major-league appearance, and three career saves - who came in to pitch the ninth. The first two outs came, then A-Rod flipped one into center, which Stern, for once, couldn't quite hold onto. Teixeira stepped to the plate, the tying run, amid deafening chants of "U-S-A...U-S-A..." But a groundout to first was all he could manage, and Canada held on.
24 hours after needing a ninth-inning comeback to beat a team of amateurs, they faced what was arguable the greatest single lineup for a competitive game ever put together, and led from the top of the first to the bottom of the ninth. As a result, if Mexico beats South Africa tonight, and then beats Canada by a score of 1-0, 2-0 or 2-1 tomorrow, America would be eliminated from the WBC, regardless of what Roger Clemens does against South Africa on Friday. God, I love this game...
[* - In the AL in 2005 (with the DH, like today's game), only 420 of 20933 hits - 2% - were triples. So the chances of a team getting triples as their first three hits, like Canada did, is about one in 123,807...]