U.S., Canada have backs to the wall
Both teams need win when they square off on Saturday
BEIJING -- They are two teams from bordering North American countries over here at the Summer Olympics, and one of them is about to be on the border of possible early elimination from the baseball competition.
The United States and Canada each has a 1-2 record (tied with Chinese Taipei for fifth place), each has suffered a pair of heartbreaking losses, including one each at the hands of Cuba, and now they meet at 10:30 p.m. ET on Saturday at Wukesong Field 2.
"It is a fine line between 3-0 and 1-2," said Jason Donald, the Phillies' Triple-A shortstop who made big plays in a crushing 5-4, 11-inning loss to Cuba on Friday. "That's international baseball for you. Every game, every at-bat, every pitch, there is so much on the line. There's not much you can do except run out there."
This is an eight-team field, and each team plays the other once in the preliminaries. Sunday is a rest day for everyone, and then after three more days of games, the first round will be complete. The field then will be ranked by won-loss record (head-to-head is first tiebreaker), and the top four teams will advance to the two Aug. 22 semifinal games. The winners of those two games will meet for the gold and silver on Aug. 23, and the two losers will play that same day to determine the bronze.
It is safe to assume that whichever team loses this U.S.-Canada game will be in tough shape. A 1-3 record would mean that sweeping the remaining three gets you only a borderline shot at the cut. The U.S. knows who is waiting in its seventh and final preliminary game -- tournament co-favorite Japan. And consider what Canada is thinking: It has Japan on Monday.
The Americans' next three games are against Canada, China and Chinese Taipei. These would fall under the category of "taking care of business" based on expectations. But the U.S. knows that anything can happen. Indeed, the U.S. is tied in the standings with China.
To deal with Canada, the U.S. team calls upon left-hander Brett Anderson for the starting assignment. He faced Canada in the first of those four exhibitions in North Carolina before the trip to Beijing, and although Canada won that game (USA won the next three), Anderson pitched five scoreless innings.
"The majority of their hitters are left-handed, and I'm sure that's the main reason I'm starting," Anderson said. "I know they will try to make adjustments from the first time I faced them, and I will, too. They have older, more experienced guys like [Scott] Thorman, Stubby Clapp ... I know they'll be tough."
Indeed, Canada has nine batters who hit lefty and three who hit from the right side. USA Baseball scout Kevin Saucier said Canada's teams generally always are heavily left-handed-hitting, "because they grow up swinging a hockey stick that way."
Canada, which opened the tournament by blanking China, has been unable to seize big opportunities so far -- most recently in its 1-0 loss to Korea Friday night.
In the ninth inning of that game, Mike Saunders and Nick Weglarz each singled to put runners on first and third with one out. Brett Lawrie, the teenager drafted 16th overall by the Brewers this June, followed with a fly ball to right field that wasn't deep enough to bring in Saunders with the tying run. Matt Rogelstad then worked a two-out walk that loaded the bases for Ryan Radmanovich, who flew out to center to end the game.
Watch out for Weglarz on Sunday. He was 4-for-4 in the 7-6 loss to Cuba on Thursday, scoring three times and driving in three on a pair of homers.
"We have to win every single game," said U.S. infielder Matt Brown. "It doesn't matter whose record is what. We don't want to put too much pressure on it, but everyone knows why we are here."
It figures to be an early day for the Americans and Canadians -- for any team that draws the dreaded 10:30 start time. Batting practice before the game means awakening around 6 a.m. to catch the bus from the Athlete Village to get out to the Wukesong Sports Complex. Pity the China team, which did that on Friday, only to get to the ballpark and find that morning batting practice was canceled due to overnight rain that followed Thursday's deluge.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.