'I've never played in an atmosphere like that.' Mexico routs U.S. in World Baseball Classic
Team USA was pummeled by the Meneses Mauler on Sunday night, Washington Nationals slugger Joey Meneses crushing two homers and driving in five runs to lead Mexico to an 11-5 World Baseball Classic victory before a raucous sellout crowd of 47,534 at Chase Field.
Meneses, a 30-year-old journeyman who played 10 years in the minor leagues and 10 winter-ball seasons in Mexico before his breakout 2022 season with the Nationals, sent a 109-mph screamer of a line drive into the left-field seats off San Diego Padres right-hander Nick Martinez for a two-run homer in the first inning.
Meneses reached on an infield single and scored in the third inning for a 3-1 lead. The first baseman then followed Randy Arozarena’s RBI double and Alex Verdugo’s walk with a towering three-run homer to left field off Kansas City Royals right-hander Brady Singer for a 7-1 lead in the fourth.
“I have no words to describe it,” Meneses said in Spanish. “It was a very beautiful sensation with a lot of adrenaline, with the stadium full … it’s something I’ll never forget.”
Meneses, who hit .324 with a .930 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 13 homers and 34 RBIs in 56 games for Washington over the final two months last season, punctuated his second shot with a rainmaker of a bat flip, tossing his lumber about 20 feet into the air in front of Mexico’s first-base dugout while his teammates — including Dodgers left-hander Julio Urías — went wild.
Urías and Meneses, who are both from Culiacán, have known each other since they were boys, but they never played together because Meneses is four years older than Urías (26).
Meneses has starred for los Tomateros de Culiacán in winter ball for years. Urias said last year that he wants to finish his career with los Tomateros.
Angels left-hander Patrick Sandoval threw three one-run, two-hit innings, and Chicago Cubs right-hander Javier Assad threw three scoreless, one-hit innings to help Mexico improve to 1-1 in Pool C. Team USA fell to 1-1, making its path to the WBC quarterfinals in Miami a little more treacherous.
Canada and Colombia are both 1-0. The U.S. can clinch a spot to Miami with wins over Canada on Monday night and Colombia on Wednesday night.
A battle between Angels teammates ended in a draw, with Sandoval striking out Team USA center fielder Mike Trout looking at a down-and-in slider in the first inning and Trout drawing a one-out walk to cap a nine-pitch at-bat in the third.
With Angels manager Phil Nevin watching from a front-row seat behind the plate, Trout fouled off three full-count sliders in the third inning, all down and in, before taking a fastball up for ball four. Sandoval escaped further damage by striking out No. 3 hitter Paul Goldschmidt with a nasty slider and getting cleanup man Nolan Arenado to ground out to shortstop, preserving a 3-1 lead.
“It was just fun to compete with the best, honestly,” Sandoval said. “When you have Mike Trout in the box, you’ve got to have your best stuff. It was fun to face him, for sure.”
Sandoval struck out two and walked two in his 55-pitch start, yielding his only run when Kyle Tucker laced a one-out triple into the right-field corner and scored on Tim Anderson’s single to right in the second.
Sandoval, a Mission Viejo High graduate, does not speak Spanish, but was eligible to pitch for Mexico because his father, Jorge, was born and raised in Mexico City. The WBC experience, and his new teammates, have grown quickly on the pitcher.
“This is up there with one of the greatest nights of my baseball career, for sure,” Sandoval said. “The camaraderie with the team, the emotion we play with, the hustle, the heart. It’s incredible. It’s really fun to be in that dugout.”
Especially during Meneses’ epic bat flip.
“I’m still fired up by it, to be honest,” Sandoval said. “The crowd tonight, it was insane. I’ve never played in an atmosphere like that. To be able to contribute to a win like that, it’s incredible. So grateful for the opportunity.”
Dodgers catchers Will Smith and Austin Barnes also squared off against each other with Barnes, who is playing for Mexico, stealing second base off Smith in the sixth inning. Smith hit a solo homer to left to cut Mexico’s lead to 7-2.
Mexico tacked on four more runs off Colorado closer Daniel Bard in the eighth on Arozarena’s RBI double, Rowdy Tellez’s two-run single and Luis Urias’ RBI single, pushing the lead to 11-2 and chasing Bard after he threw 33 pitches in the inning.
The U.S. countered with three runs in the bottom of the eighth on Bobby Witt Jr.’s RBI double and Anderson’s two-run double, but Smith flied out to deep center with runners on second and third to end the inning, and Mexico right-hander Gerardo Reyes, an Angels non-roster invitee to spring training, got the final three outs.
The game began with an awkward moment when Arozarena stepped into the box for his leadoff at-bat. The Tampa Bay slugger tapped home-plate umpire Alan Porter on the shoulder and then offered a fist to Smith, whose Dodgers beat the Rays in the 2020 World Series. Smith declined to bump it.
“I enjoy baseball with every game, and I also get happy when I go against former teammates,” Arozarena said in Spanish. “Today, when I got to first base, I said ‘hi’ to [Paul] Goldschmidt, since we played together in St. Louis. And I played against Smith in triple-A when he was with the Dodgers.
“I was happy to see him, and I went to say ‘hi,’ but he left me hanging. What am I going to do? I’m not going to cry. I moved forward.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.