Canada Beats United States in World Baseball
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Here's a scenario that we're guessing the planners of the World Baseball Classic didn't foresee: it's entirely possible that the United States team will be eliminated tonight in the first round of play.
Yesterday, in an upset, the U.S. lost to Canada, eight to six. And according to the rules of round robin play, if Mexico beats Canada tonight by a score of 1-0, 2-0, or 2-1, the U.S. will be out, before it's even played its final game of the first round.
The headline today in the Toronto Globe & Mail is Miracle on Grass. Jeff Blair wrote that story, he's covering the games in Phoenix. And Jeff to call yesterday's result a surprise would be a bit of an understatement.
Mr. JEFF BLAIR (Sports writer): Well, considering the lineup that the Americans ran out against the Canadians and, more importantly, the fact that going into the tournament, Canada had basically decided to write off the game against the United States, thinking that beating South Africa and Mexico would be enough to get through.
So, as a result, because of Canada's relatively limited pitching resources, it was decided that a lot of young pitchers and journeyman pitchers would face the Americans. And lo and behold, instead of writing off the game, they actually ended up winning it.
BLOCK: Yeah. And at one point, in the fifth inning, they were up eight to nothing.
Mr. BLAIR: Well, you know, It's probably not all that surprising that the Canadian team would be able to score runs, even though the U.S. pitcher, Dontrelle Willis is certainly one of the best pitchers in the game. The Canadians do have some legitimate major league players, some players who are everyday players, such as Corey Koskie and Jason Bay, their center fielder who is a former rookie of the year, and their first baseman, Justin Morneau.
But I guess what was really kind of interesting from the Canadian team's perspective is the fact that the player who emerged as the driving offensive force is Adam Stern, kind of a smallish guy who will be hard pressed to make the Boston Red Sox roster this year. He missed most of last year with a fractured thumb, and he kind of came out of nowhere and had an inside the park homerun and made a couple of great defensive plays.
BLOCK: Just had a great game.
Mr. BLAIR: Oh, yeah. And you know, I mean, that's the beauty of baseball. And it is possible that somebody can literally come out of left field, or in this case center field, and just steal the show. And that's what happened.
BLOCK: What have you heard from either the players, the major leaguers who are on the U.S. team? You've got Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Damon. What have they been saying about how they're doing here and the fact that they could be out of this thing?
Mr. BLAIR: Well, they'll tell you that anything can happen in a tournament like this, of course, and that anybody can emerge on any given day, and all that good stuff. But there's no doubt that they know that this tournament was set up for them to get through to the second round and certainly get through to the final.
I mean, they are the only team in this pool that gets an off day, which is rather interesting. Everybody else is playing on consecutive days. They realize that. They realize that this was set up for them to get through, and there's a lot riding on them getting into the finals. Their presence will be thing that drives the attendance at the next round of the games in Anaheim.
The finals are sold out, but they really do need team USA to get in to sell tickets in Anaheim.
BLOCK: So if the U.S. were not to advance, what does that mean for the World Baseball Classic?
Mr. BLAIR: I guess the saving grace would be that the Mexican team would be advancing. And they have shown that because of the large Hispanic community in Arizona, they're capable of turning out crowds of over 20,000 to see the Mexican team play. Their fans are very loyal, they're very boisterous. And, of course, southern California has a sizeable Hispanic community, as well.
So, I don't think the games will be complete flops, as long as the Mexican team goes through, because people will come out to see them. But certainly, the optimal scenario is for team USA and team Mexico to both advance, because I don't think that Canada will haul in as many fans as either of those teams.
BLOCK: Jeff Blair, thanks very much.
Mr. BLAIR: Thank you.
BLOCK: Jeff Blair is covering the World Baseball Classic in Arizona for the Toronto Globe and Mail.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.