Another World Baseball Classic heartbreak for Canada as lead over U.S. slips away late

Ian Denomme

PHOENIX – After Saturday’s brawl with Mexico, Canada didn’t quite have enough fight left for the United States. Canada came close – five outs away – from knocking off the United States on its home turf, but came up short.

Canada lost a heartbreaking World Baseball Classic decision to the U.S., 9-4, in a winner-moves-on game on Sunday at Chase Field. The final score is not at all indicative of the way the Canadians played, or how close and tense the game was.

Consider, the Americans did not have a lead until the eighth inning and scored seven runs in the final two innings to put the game away. Canada took a 3-2 lead into the eighth inning and turned the game over to their Milwaukee Brewers bullpen combination of Jim Henderson and John Axford.

“If you have a game plan, you draw it up just like that,” manager Ernie Whitt said. “You have your best pitchers closing out the game for you. But, again, sometimes it doesn't always come the way you expect it to.”

Henderson came in and promptly gave up a single to Joe Mauer and walked David Wright. One batter later, Adam Jones hit a double to deep left-centre, scoring Mauer and Wright. Shane Victorino singled home Jones and suddenly the U.S. was up 5-3.

[Slideshow: Canada eliminated at World Baseball Classic]

“The walk to Wright definitely cost me,” Henderson said after the game. “I left a slider down to Jones, I was ahead of him, he took a good cut at a fastball the pitch before, so we went back to the slider, and I just didn’t get it low enough.

“I got a taste of what playoff baseball would be like. I’ve never pitched in an atmosphere like this before. That’s not an excuse, I was ready to go. I went out there and did my best.”

Several players, and the manager, mentioned how everything was going according to plan. In fact, until the eighth inning, you couldn’t have drawn up a better script. After Friday’s embarrassing mercy-rule loss to Italy, and Saturday’s brawl with Mexico, it appeared as though Canada was going to do the unthinkable and send the mighty Americans crashing out of the tournament.

“You always try to look forward. But we're disappointed that we're not going to the second round,” Whitt said. “I mean, that was our objective coming into this tournament. And, like I said, the way the game was being played, I was happy in the situation we were at.”

Canada got a solid performance from 21-year-old Pirates prospect Jameson Taillon, who went four innings giving up two runs (one earned) and striking out three. Dustin Molleken and Phillipe Aumont held the U.S. in check for another three innings before the wheels feel off in the eighth.

[More: Americans rally to beat Canada at WBC]

After Henderson was relieved by Scott Mathieson for the final out of the eighth, Whitt made the curious decision to leave him in to start the ninth. With Brewers closer Axford waiting in the ‘pen – and having already received permission to pitch him on back-to-back days – Mathieson got into trouble. Axford came in and gave up a single to Ben Zobrist to load the bases. With two out Eric Hosmer, a late injury replacement for Yankees star Mark Teixeira, hit a bases-clearing double to put the U.S ahead 9-4.

“If someone were to look at the boxscore they would think it was a borderline blowout,” said first baseman Joey Votto. “But it was a really close game. At the end of the game, you want those two guys in there, I’m sure the U.S. team would say the same thing. I’m really happy those two guys are on my team. It just so happens the U.S. put together a lot of good at-bats, had big swings in big situations.”

Votto and his teammates are left with the sting of again not advancing to the second round of the WBC. Canada lost out on a tie-breaker in 2006, and went 0-2 in 2009 when the first round was held in Toronto. With control of its own destiny on Sunday, it was as close as the team has come.

“I thought today we had a shot,” Votto said. “Seven-and-a-half innings through I thought ‘We might have a chance at going on to the next round, and boy, this would mean a lot to Baseball Canada’s program and to everybody in the clubhouse.’”

One silver lining for the Canadian team was the play of Michael Saunders. The 26-year-old Seattle Mariners outfielder was named Pool D most valuable player after going 8-for-11, with three doubles, a home run, and seven runs-batted-in. Saunders homered in the second inning of Sunday’s game to give Canada a 2-0 lead.

“It's definitely an honor. However, it's kind of a sour taste in my mouth right now,” Saunders said. “Whenever you represent your country, it really doesn't matter how you do, as long as you win. And that was the main focus. We played a tough game and obviously the U.S. came out on top, but we're holding our heads high.

“We came to this tournament prepared and we felt like we played well. A few innings didn't go our way, but I think we played well and I think we showed the world that Canada is here to stay.”