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USA stays tight-knit -- even Yanks, BoSox

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TORONTO – Adam Dunn was standing on first base, talking to Venezuela first baseman Miguel Cabrera during a pitching change, so he didn't notice Shane Victorino had jogged out of the dugout to pinch run for him until Victorino reached up and swatted him playfully on the chin.

"Sucker-punched me,'' Dunn said. "And I never played with Shane in my life. I don't think it would have mattered who was on first base, I think he would have done the same thing.''

Dustin Pedroia has played on one All-Star team. Derek Jeter has been on nine and is considered the face of Team USA. But that hasn't kept Pedroia from plastering a poster of Jeter's anti-perspirant ad in his locker, the one that shows Jeter waving to a group of booing fans outside Fenway Park with the caption, "Every day's a walk in the park. Even this park.''

And when Jeter mentioned how hard it was to come off the bench in midgame Sunday night, Pedroia offered his condolences by saying, "Yeah, it's only happened to me a couple of times, so I imagine it must be hard."

And Pedroia couldn't wait to go back into the clubhouse to remind Jeter that obviously someone had made a mistake in last July's All-Star game, batting Jeter second and Pedroia ninth.

"He doesn't ever shut up, Pedroia,'' Mets third baseman David Wright said with a smile. "He's one of my new favorites. I've had a chance to hang out with him a few times before, but he's a beauty.''

There were few things that felt as good as being young, American and a baseball player on Sunday night in the Rogers Centre. Team USA, blowing things up with an eight-run sixth inning, won passage to the second round of the World Baseball Classic by routing Venezuela 15-6. The Americans, who beat Canada 6-5 in their opener, will play one more game here Wednesday against the victor of the loser's bracket, but the pressure will be off.

The same can not be said for Venezuela, which on Tuesday will play the winner of Monday night's Canada-Italy elimination game to determine who will join Team USA in Miami.

Venezuela banged out 13 hits but ran out a conga line of relievers so pathetic (think Victor Zambrano, the ex-Met) that by the end of the game its fans were chanting for manager Luis Sojo, a former infielder, to put himself in to pitch.

"We all knew that maybe the bullpen was a big question mark for us,'' Sojo said, "and it looked like a disaster.''

The Venezuelans not only have pitching to worry about but politics. Magglio Ordonez, who last month appeared at a stadium rally in support of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez's referendum scrapping term limits, was booed during every appearance and is hitless in seven at-bats.

At one point, fans shouted the same message at Ordonez that they did when Virginia Mata, the country's minister of sport, threw out the ceremonial first pitch: "Fuera, fuera [get out, get out].'' Mata, acting like she was hearing wild applause, waved like Queen Elizabeth.

And when Endy Chavez, the Mariners outfielder and former Met, came to the plate in Saturday's opener, fans chanted, "Endy, si, Chavez, no.''

Meanwhile, the worst thing Team USA has faced was some booing of Jeter. Most of that undoubtedly from Blue Jays fans, although Jeter may have put a few more Canadian noses out of joint when he insulted their national pastime on David Letterman's Top 10 reasons to watch the WBC, when he said, "What else are you going to do, watch hockey?''

Dunn, who homered for the second straight game, as did Kevin Youkilis, was at a loss to explain how a couple of dozen or so players thrown together a week ago could have already developed a personality, one oozing with confidence and just plain fun.

"I have no idea how this has happened, to be honest with you,'' he said. "I don't know, it seems like we've been together for a long time. I don't know if that's the way they designed it or what. But we have a bunch of great guys, everyone gets along. I don't know, it's amazing.''

Team USA center fielder Curtis Granderson, who Sunday night was facing a lineup that had three of his Detroit Tigers teammates (Miguel Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen) and a fourth (Armando Galarraga) on the mound, likened being here to one of his earliest baseball experiences.

"I've told people it's like that first day of Little League tryouts,'' said Granderson, who had two of USA's 16 hits. "You're out there, everyone's looking at everybody. You know everyone but you're afraid to talk to somebody.

"But I think we have good group of guys willing to stay loose and stay relaxed. I think Dunn cracked a couple of jokes the first day and made everybody feel comfortable. He was serious about his business, but he's still a teammate, like what you're used to having on your club.''

The camaraderie already has spread beyond the ballpark, he said.

"A lot of guys went to see the UFC fight the night before, and we had dinner the night before that,'' he said. "When you start having chemistry away from the field, that translates into a good clubhouse.''

The mutual affection would quickly evaporate, of course, if this team wasn't winning. Team USA now has six home runs in its first two games, but after going 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position against Canada, it did a terrific job of stringing together hits and exploiting the eight walks issued by Venezuela.

Chris Iannetta, the Rockies catcher who thought he'd have a better chance playing for Team Italy than Team USA, drove in four runs with a bases-loaded double and single, while Mark DeRosa, who gives the 2009 edition more versatility than it had in '06, also had four RBIs.

Pedroia had just one hit, but as usual it came in the middle of things, a two-run double in the big inning. Youkilis, who had opened the inning by reaching on a third-strike wild pitch, capped it with a home run. He scored four times and has crossed the plate seven times in two games.

"That's kind of what I expected from the get-go with that lineup,'' Dunn said. "I don't know why we shouldn't have a few of those innings a night.''

Reggie Smith, the Team USA hitting coach, served in the same role in 2006. The difference in the two teams?

"The experience of not getting the job done in the first one,'' he said, "and from a staff standpoint, a little more input into the type of players we picked. We needed a team, not an All-Star team. Guys who understood their roles, sacrificed, and checked their egos at the front door.

"Youkilis and Pedroia, I'd give anything to be with those guys in the clubhouse on the Red Sox team, because you can see they come prepared to win. They want to beat your butt. That's what we need now, and what we needed in '06.''

To enter USA's clubhouse from the dugout, players must pass an oversized flag. The message is unmistakable.

"It's pretty incredible,'' Wright said, "the way we've jelled. There's a bunch of great personalities. We don't have any cancers. Guys are going out there taking it seriously to represent the country, and not let each other down.''

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