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Big League Stew

World Baseball Classic roundup: USA falls to Mexico in opener, Japan rallies again to overcome Chinese Taipei

Mark Townsend
Big League Stew

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(USA Today)

Just like that, Team USA has its back against the wall following a thorough 5-2 defeat at the hands of a Mexico team that began the evening in the exact same position.

To Mexico's credit, they didn't come out timid. In fact, they were very much the opposite in attacking knuckleballer R.A. Dickey aggressively early on. Eduardo Arredondo opened the game with a single on the first pitch. Ramiro Pena then followed with a well struck double that nearly split the gap. A Luis Cruz sacrifice fly and Adrian Gonzalez RBI groundout later, Mexico quickly led it 2-0.

[Related: Team USA stumbles at World Baseball Classic, loses opener to Mexico]

The assault continued and the lead expanded in the third when Adrian Gonzalez connected on a two-run home run that just touched outside the yellow line in Chase Field’s quirky center field setup. That would prove to be all they needed as USA could only scratch across single runs in the fourth and eighth. A 2-for-13 performance with RISP certainly didn’t help the cause in this all around rough opener for Team USA.

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Sho Nakata celebrates his game-winning sacrifice fly. (AP)

Japan 4, Chinese Taipei 3: Second round action in Tokyo continued with a real thriller early Friday morning. The two-time defending champions from Japan, who are obviously serious about completing the hat trick, rallied from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits in the eighth and ninth innings respectively against Chinese Taipei’s bullpen to force the first extra inning game of the tournament.

Japan would then carry their momentum over into the tenth, pushing across the go-ahead run on Sho Nakata’s sacrifice fly. But there was still work to be done. Taipei, who played as the designated home team, would attempt a comeback of their own in the bottom half by putting runners at first and second with one out, but Toshiya Sugiuchi got Yung-Chi Chen to roll into a double play to end it.

The gut-wrenching loss for Taipei wasted another solid outing from Chien-Ming Wang. The former Yankee and National tossed six shutout frames while allowing six hits and a walk. Other key contributors for Japan included Yomiuri Giants teammates Shinnosuke Abe and Hayato Sakamoto, who each delivered an RBI single in the game-changing eighth. Hirokazu Ibata then tied it again in the ninth with a two-out, RBI single.

Italy 14, Canada 4: Have mercy! The Italian baseball squad is on fire in opening round play. After rallying in the ninth inning on Thursday to upend Mexico, Italy jumped out to an early 5-1 lead on Canada thanks largely to Chris Colabello’s three-run blast. And though Canada would soon cut the lead to a manageable 6-4, Italy put the pedal to the metal again with eight unanswered runs in the seventh and eighth innings to invoke the mercy rule.

Seven of Italy’s nine starters would collect at least two hits in the game, led by Colabello’s four hits and four RBI. Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo (two walks, two runs, RBI) and Minnesota Twins backup catcher Drew Butera (two RBI) were the two who didn’t, but each managed to be productive in the win.

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(AP)

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Puerto Rico 3, Spain 0: Houston Astros minor leaguer Sergio Perez had a rough start on the mound for Spain, walking two and allowing three earned runs in the first inning. His teammates never recovered thanks to a lights out effort from Puerto Rican starter Giancarlo Alvarado, who allowed only one hit over four scoreless. Hiram Burgos of the Milwaukee Brewers picked up the slack for the next four and two-thirds, and then Xavier Cedeno recorded the final out and the save with a strikeout of Salomon Manriquez.

[Also: MLB commissioner Bud Selig envisions a true 'World' Series]

The only real fireworks in the game actually occurred in the second and third innings when Alex Rios was struck by one of Perez's several wild offerings. Rios didn't react too kindly, a few words were exchanged, and then in the following half inning Alvarado retaliated by hitting Gabe Suarez in the hip. At that point both benches were warned and the game was completed without any further incident.

Saturday's Slate

• The first elimination game in Pool 1 takes place as Chinese Taipei takes on Cuba (5:00 a.m. ET). The winner will face the loser of Sunday's Japan-Netherlands tilt in another elimination game on Monday.

• The Dominican Republic goes for a 2-0 start when they face Spain (11:00 a.m. ET). A loss for Spain significantly damages their prospects.

• Canada and Mexico will meet in a battle of one loss teams (2:30 p.m. ET). For Canada, another loss makes them 0-2 and longshots to advance. A loss for Mexico puts them at 1-2 in the clubhouse with help needed.

• Venezuela dropped their opener and it won't get any easier against a motivated Puerto Rico squad (5:30 p.m. ET). In fact, a win for Puerto Rico would almost assure a ticket to round 2. Big game for both sides.

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• The day's finale pits USA vs. Italy (9:00 p.m ET). It's pretty simple — a win for Italy gives them a clean sweep of Pool D and a cozy spot in the second round. USA needs a win of their own, and should also be pulling for Canada to knock off Mexico earlier in the day. They'll send Ryan Vogelsong to the mound, which is probably a good thing considering his experience in must win games.

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