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Team USA triumphs to earn trip back to WBC semis

United States' Giancarlo Stanton reacts after hitting a two-run home run during the fourth inning of a second-round World Baseball Classic baseball game against the Dominican Republic Saturday, March 18, 2017, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

SAN DIEGO — Forget about their checkered WBC history. And that storyline about who’s not participating in the red, white and blue uniforms, as opposed to who is. Put that one to bed, too. There will be another game — possibly two — for Team USA.

Japan — the team that knocked Team USA out of their only other semifinals appearance back in 2009 — awaits on Tuesday night in Dodger Stadium after a 6-3 American win over the Dominican Republic in a sold-out Petco Park.

“It’s a wonderful feeling,’’ Team USA manager Jim Leyland said. “We beat a great team. We’re going to the finals. We were the better team tonight.’’

Even Team USA center fielder Adam Jones had called the Dominican Republic’s All-Star laden squad, “a terrific team; like a dream team.” But with Jones’ great catch, Giancarlo Stanton’s monumental home run, and a five-pitcher effort that allowed only a solo homer and seven hits after the first inning, Team USA joined Puerto Rico in the semifinals with Japan and The Netherlands.

And Leyland wants to establish some new ground rules about how his team should be perceived.

“I don’t care what’s happened in the past,’’ he said. “This is a whole different team. This team has a lot of heart. It’s got a lot of talent. Joe Torre did a great job of assembling this team, and it’s an honor to manage it.

“There were a lot of people who respectfully declined (invites to play for Team USA), and we’re not going to throw anybody under the bus. We have no problem with that. That’s their choice. But we’re going to honor the people who accepted and who are here.

“So we’re moving forward, and that’s all we’re talking about. These players who are here are the only players I care about right now.’’

Highway robbery: When it comes to home runs, Adam Jones giveth, and Adam Jones taketh away. The Orioles center fielder homered in each of the first two games here in his hometown, and then in the seventh inning Saturday night, he emphatically denied one for Orioles teammate Manny Machado — the tournament’s newest and best web gem.

When it left the bat, Machado’s leadoff blast off Tyler Clippard sounded like a home run, and appeared as if it would leave the park, even on a 60-degree night. But Jones timed his leap perfectly, and his entire arm went over the right-center-field wall, surprising fans behind him — and even himself — when he caught it.

“I’m still kind of in shock that I even got to that ball,’’ Jones said. “Off the bat, I’m just like, this ball is hit really hard, but just keep going, keep going (after it) because this California air will slow it down. That’s just the style I play. I don’t mind running into a wall or two. I saw the replay after the game, and it was one helluva catch.’’

U.S. outfielder Adam Jones grabs a catch above the wall for the out on the Dominican Republic's Manny Machado during the seventh inning of a second-round World Baseball Classic baseball game Saturday, March 18, 2017, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

U.S. outfielder Adam Jones grabs a catch above the wall for the out on the Dominican Republic’s Manny Machado during the seventh inning of a second-round World Baseball Classic baseball game Saturday, March 18, 2017, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

When asked which Team USA play — Jones’ catch or Stanton’s homer — had the bigger impact on the game, Dominican manager Tony Pena chose the former, given the timing.

“That made a big difference because we would have had back-to-back homers (as Robinson Cano followed with a home run off Clippard), and it would have been a tie game,’’ Pena said. “I think that was a turning point.’’

“(Stanton’s homer) didn’t change the attitude in our dugout, because we kept saying we have plenty of time to come back.’’

Leyland had one other catch in mind to compare with Jones’ leaping effort.

“Otis Nixon made a catch against me one time in the playoffs where he dug his spike into the wall, and went over the wall and caught it,’’ Leyland said. “This one was right there with it, and it came at a big time. A lot of times, it’s not where you make a play, it’s when you make a play. That just took a little wind out of their sails. I think they thought there was one on the board, obviously.’’

After Cano’s homer, Leyland turned to his late-inning relievers, and Sam Dyson retired five in a row, and Luke Gregerson pitched a 1-2-3 ninth.

Statcast Stanton: It hadn’t been much of a WBC tournament for Giancarlo Stanton. He had an RBI double and nothing else to show for his first 10 at-bats — despite the first nine coming in his home ballpark in Miami.

In Petco Park, Stanton didn’t get off the bench in Team USA’s 4-2 win over Venezuela on Tuesday, and got only one at-bat as a replacement for Andrew McCutchen — who was ejected — in a 6-5 loss to Puerto Rico on Thursday.

But Team USA manager Jim Leyland had a feeling, and so he placed Stanton in the No. 8 hole as the DH against Ervin Santana in Saturday’s elimination game.

Which now begs the question: How many No. 8 hitters in any lineup anywhere, anytime have crushed a 403-foot homer with a 117.3-mph exit velocity — the fourth-hardest-hit ball since MLB Statcast measurements began in 2015?

This one got out so quickly, it didn’t really land — it crashed into the second level of the Western Metal Supply Co. building, reminiscent of some of Stanton’s blasts on his way to the 2016 Home Run Derby title in this same ballpark.

United States' Giancarlo Stanton is greeted by third base coach Willie Randolph after hitting a two-run home run during the fourth inning of a second-round World Baseball Classic baseball game against the Dominican Republic Saturday, March 18, 2017, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

United States’ Giancarlo Stanton is greeted by third base coach Willie Randolph after hitting a two-run home run during the fourth inning of a second-round World Baseball Classic baseball game against the Dominican Republic Saturday, March 18, 2017, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

“Yeah, it did feel sorta feel like the Home Run Derby,’’ Stanton said. “The feeling of confidence (despite the WBC slump) should never be in question. It’s more a question of getting your timing and feel. That was the toughest part, without playing for a couple of days. You have to understand that you put the best guys in there we also are having the best at-bats at the time.’’

Leyland explained his choice of Stanton in the No. 8 spot and as the DH (over Buster Posey and Paul Goldschmidt, to name two other notable options) this way:

“Giancarlo is a threat at any time,’’ Leyland said. “I put him down there to maybe relax him a little bit. I like a homer late in the lineup. Somebody has to hit eighth and ninth in these lineups; they’re all good players.

“I just put him down there hoping he might run into a three-run homer. It was a two-run homer, so I’m a little mad at him. No, I’m just kidding. It was a big blow, and it really picked us up.’’

Escape artist: Here’s the hole that starter Danny Duffy had dug for himself and Team USA during his first trip through the Dominican Republic batting order:

Two first-inning runs allowed (although one was unearned), and two more runners on second and third with no outs in the bottom of the second. With one more hit, arguably the best lineup on the planet could have jumped to an early 4-0 lead; just try chasing them down if that had occurred.

But Duffy found a way out, navigating through the top three hitters in the Dominican order — a Jose Reyes weak popup to second base, a fly ball to center by Manny Machado that was too shallow to score Gregory Polanco from third, and a Robinson Canó ground ball to Brandon Crawford, whose error contributed to Duffy’s first-inning woes.

“A lot of times, people think the closer in the ninth inning is the key to the game,’’ Leyland said. “But one of the keys of this game was when they had second and third and nobody out, and they didn’t score.’’

And wouldn’t you know it, it took exactly one-half inning for the momentum to shift to Team USA. The game was tied at 2-2 five batters into the top of the third on singles by Giancarlo Stanton and Jonathan Lucroy, an RBI fielder’s choice by Ian Kinsler and Christian Yelich’s RBI double to the left-center gap.

Team USA reliever Pat Neshek also stranded runners at second and third with one out in the fifth inning, striking out Starling Marte to end it.

“The whole ballgame was when we didn’t score with (runners at) second and third two times,’’ Dominican Republic manager Tony Pena said.

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