PHOENIX — Out pitched. Out hit. Out managed. And barring a miracle, out of the tournament.
To say Canada’s 2013 World Baseball Classic debut was a disaster would be putting it lightly. Canada was embarrassed by Italy, succumbing to the mercy rule after eight innings in a 14-4 loss. Canada’s WBC hopes unraveled quickly against the surprising Italians, who are now 2-0. Italy is almost assured of advancing to the second round for the first time, while Canada has faint hope of moving on.
“We just got beat. They came up with some key hits that really kind of hurt,” Canada manager Ernie Whitt said.
Yes, Italy had some key hits. It had a lot of hits. Small hits, big hits, 17 hits when it was all said and done. Canada’s pitchers looked helpless against the Italian hitters, a mix of a few major leaguers and lot of players few have heard of. Canada used six different pitchers and all but one – righty Dustin Molleken – gave up at least two runs.
It wasn’t just that the Italians got hits, a big part of their convincing romp was when they got the hits. Italy scored seven of its 14 runs with two outs. Had Canada been able to close the third and seventh innings without as much damage, it may have had a chance to come back.
“They came out swinging. They were hot, they hit us. They played awesome today,” said Canada reliever Scott Mathieson, who surrendered four runs on five hits in 1.1 innings.
“it was just one of those games, it’s the way baseball is. It’s the great thing about it, and it’s the awful thing about it – depends what side you’re on. I probably just didn’t make the pitches I should have.”
Italy also had some breaks. Mathieson gave up a single on a broken bat and fellow reliever Phillippe Aumont gave up two broken-bat hits in his ugly seventh inning.
Using six pitchers also puts Canada in a bind for the rest of the tournament. The WBC has strict rules about pitch counts and pitching on back-to-back days.
Canada never led and didn’t muster much offence against a group of relatively unknown Italian pitchers. Each time Canada made it close, Italy answered with a big inning of its own.
Canada was also the victim of some questionable decision making. In the fourth inning, trailing 5-1, Justin Morneau and Michael Saunders led off with a single and walk. With nobody out, Whitt elected to have catcher Chris Robinson bunt the runners over. With runners now on second and third, Adam Loewen struck out and Pete Orr popped out to end the inning and the threat.
“Trying to chip away at the lead,” was how Whitt described his decision. “We had a lot of game left, and we’re full of left-hand hitters. And we trust every hitter to come up to do the job, and we didn’t do it.”
Canada made is close in the seventh with a two-run rally. Shortstop Cale Iorg lead off with a single, Joey Votto walked and Morneau was hit by a pitch to load the bases. With two outs, Michael Saunders singled to right to score Iorg and Votto making it 6-4. That’s as close as Canada got.
Italy quickly put the nail in the coffin with three runs of its own in the bottom of the seventh. Canadian reliever Phillippe Aumont got two quick outs before giving up a single to Chris Colabello and walked Mike Costanzo. Mario Chiarini and Drew Butera each followed with hits to make it 9-4.
“Every time we got close, they came back the next inning and put some runs on the board,” Whitt said. “In a game of baseball, you have to have some shutdown innings, and we weren’t able to do that. It’s full of momentum swings, and they kept the momentum on their side.”
Colabello had the other big hit of the game, a three-run homer off Mathieson in the third inning. Again, with two outs, Whitt pulled starter Shawn Hill with a runner on third. Alex Liddi singled home a run, then on the first pitch he saw, Colabello hit a homer to deep left field that made it 5-1.
Aside from needing much improved pitching, Canada needs a better offensive performance going forward, too. Canada had just seven hits in the game and left 16 runners on base.
“We battled through at-bats today, we had runners on but we were missing that big hit,” said Saunders, who was two-for-three with two RBIs. “When we did get runners on we didn’t quite get them in. In these games that matter, when we get a runner on second … we have to make sure we get him in.”
Canada’s remaining schedule features a game with Mexico on Saturday then the United States on Sunday. In order to advance, Canada must win both games then needs the U.S. to beat both Mexico and Italy.
“We’re looking at [Saturday] now, instead of looking at the big picture,” Mathieson said. “There’s a little bit of disbelief but at this point you just have to forget about it.
“We know we can beat Mexico, we know we can beat the U.S., we’ve done it before.”
Whitt agreed that Canada is facing an uphill battle but remains confident. There is still lots on the line. If Canada goes winless in the tournament, as it did in 2009, it would be forced to go through a qualifying round to make the 2017 event.
“Every time we go on the field we try to win. So we’re going to have to try to put it behind us,” Whitt said. “And it doesn’t look good, but let’s be honest, stranger things have happened. We have to win the next two games now and get some help.”
Pittsburgh Pirates reliever Chris Leroux gets the start for Canada against Mexico on Saturday.