Team USA opened up the second round of the World Baseball Classic with a thrilling 4-2 win against Venezuela on Wednesday night.
After seven innings of frustration offensively, Adam Jones and Eric Hosmer brought the team to life with clutch home runs in the eighth inning against Venezuelan reliever Hector Rondon. Jones’ blast to open the inning tied the game, while Hosmer’s two-run shot proved to be the difference in what may be the United States’ most important win yet in WBC competition.
The win gives Team USA a needed leg up in a very competitive Pool F. With Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic looming this weekend, there’s at least some margin for error now instead of requiring a sweep to advance. With that in mind, a split doesn’t guarantee advancement either, but at worst would result in a tiebreaker on Sunday.
Before the fireworks started, both starting pitchers did an excellent job setting the tone at Petco Park in San Diego. Mariners teammates Drew Smyly, who started for Team USA, and Felix Hernandez, the Venezuelan starter, carved right through the opposing team’s loaded lineup.
The only blemish against Smyly in 4 2/3 innings was an unearned run in the third inning which resulted from his own throwing error. Smyly airmailed a throw to first base on Robinson Chirinos’ bunt single, which led to a sacrifice fly from Ender Inciarte. He was dominant before and especially after, finishing his outing with six straight strikeouts and eight overall.
Hernandez was only challenged once in his five scoreless frames. In that same third inning he allowed three singles, but tip-toed out of the trouble by inducing an inning-ending double play from Adam Jones. Padres farmhand Jose Castillo helped Venezuela escape another jam in the sixth, striking out Christian Yelich and Nolan Arenado with the go-ahead runners on base. He hopes that’s just the first of several big moments in his career at Petco Park.
Team USA finally broke through in the seventh on Jonathan Lucroy’s sacrifice fly, which was set up by Rougned Odor’s second error of the game. Odor, typically a second baseman for the Texas Rangers, was playing out of position at third base. Odor did in part make up for his defense by launching a seventh inning solo home run against David Robertson.
This now sets up an interesting matchup on Friday. On that night, Team USA gets a shot at the hottest team in WBC, Puerto Rico. Coming off Monday’s 3-1 win against the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico is now 4-0 and has outscored its opponents by a combined score of 32-8. That included an 11-0 mercy-rule win over the same Venezuela team we saw here. Puerto Rico is mighty impressive, and will present quite a challenge.
This also sets up something close to an elimination game between the Dominican Republic and Venezuela on Thursday. Someone’s going to 0-2, and whoever it is will need a lot of help to survive the weekend.
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