When Team USA woke up on Saturday morning, they faced an uncertain future in the World Baseball Classic. Thanks to their tournament-opening loss to Mexico on Friday night, it was possible that the United States could win their final two games and still not advance to the second round of the 2013 World Baseball Classic. That all changed before they even took the field, thanks to Canada's brawl-filled win against Mexico on Saturday afternoon. That game changed the tenor of Pool D entirely; it put Italy through to the second round no matter what, and it put Team USA back in control of their own destiny. Beat Italy and beat Canada and the United States advances to the second round.
Maybe that seems like it should've been easy, but very few things that seem like they should be easy actually end up being so for the United States in the World Baseball Classic.
With their tournament lives more or less on the line playing against an inferior opponent with nothing to play for, the United States found themselves in a 2-0 hole after two innings on Saturday night. A Ryan Vogelsong wild pitch in the first inning gave Italy a 1-0 lead, then a Tyler LaTorre single and an Anthony Granato double gave Italy a 2-0 lead in the second inning. The US couldn't find a way to score against Italian-born starter Luca Panerati. Most rational people expect the United States to disappoint in the World Baseball Classic. Simply put, the MLB players don't seem to view the tournament as something that's hugely important and the US team is made up entirely of MLB players. Still, even the most cynical US baseball watcher wouldn't have predicted them to go down to Tyler LaTorre and Anthony Granato and Luca Panerati.
As it turns out, we don't have to ponder that type of baseball void quite yet here in the States. After Joe Mauer doubled in Ryan Braun to get the US on the board in the fourth inning and Brandon Philips singled in Adam Jones in the fifth, David Wright hit a grand slam later in the fifth that provided the US with a four-run lead. That 6-2 score held up mostly thanks to some solid relief work from Ross Detwiler, who picked up the rare four inning save, striking out three, walking one, and only allowing one Italian hit in nailing down the win for the United States.
Thanks to the win, all the United States need do to advance out of the tournament's first round is to beat Canada tomorrow afternoon. Canada will send Pirate prospect Jameson Taillon to face off against the Rangers' Derek Holland. Taillon's only 21, but he's a talented kid; he's Baseball America's 19th best prospect heading into the 2013 season. Still, he's also only thrown 17 innings above Single-A in his minor league career. The veteran-laden United States roster should have the advantage against an inexperienced starter, a weak bullpen, and a Canadian starting lineup much thinner than theirs. This is the World Baseball Classic, though. Take nothing for granted when it comes to USA baseball.