One Classic dream ends today
USA, The Netherlands meet in an elimination game
Seven World Baseball Classic dreams will continue when the second round shifts into full gear today, but one will come to an end.If it's not The Netherlands finally getting pinched and waking up after a giddy March dream, then we're looking at nothing short of a nightmare for Team USA. The first second-round elimination game of the second edition of baseball's worldwide party will take place in Miami at 7:30 p.m. ET, with Team USA meeting the upstart Dutch with both teams' backs against the wall. Across the country in San Diego, the remainder of the second round will be in full swing, with defending champion Japan meeting Cuba in an afternoon rematch of the 2006 final, and Korea meeting Mexico at in what figures to be a spirited late-night display at Petco Park. But for American devotees of America's pastime, it'll be hard not to focus on the reality that Team USA on the brink of another disappointing Classic.
"This team is too good to go home," catcher Brian McCann said. "We've got too good of guys in this clubhouse to cut it short."
Saturday's performance in an 11-1 defeat at the hands of Puerto Rico put them in that spot, though."Embarrassment is the only word that comes to mind," outfielder Adam Dunn said of the loss. It wasn't pretty. It lasted only seven innings, as Puerto Rico took the victory on the mercy rule with a four-run bottom half of the inning. Team USA's day already had gotten off to a bad start before the first pitch, when second baseman and reigning American League MVP Dustin Pedroia pulled out of the tournament with an oblique strain in his left side. Puerto Rico, stocked to the rafters with Major League talent and enjoying Pudge Rodriguez's resurgent audition for a new home, hasn't lost a game in four tries in the tournament, outscoring opponents by a 26-2 margin. Asked whether his team's efficiently rude treatment of Team USA sent a message to other teams, Puerto Rico manager Jose Oquendo said the message is clear. "They know that we have a good team, and they're going to play aggressively as they should, trying to take advantage of different opportunities and causing pitchers to work as much as they can," Oquendo said. "That's the message that's being taken." After receiving that message loud and clear Saturday night, Team USA looks to move past it. "Yes it was embarrassing, if you lose by 10 or by one it's the same to me, still a loss," sage captain Derek Jeter said. "You have to have a short memory, being that it's a double-elimination series." Earlier on Saturday, the second round got under way with Venezuela staving off The Netherlands in the Pool 2 opener, 3-1. Miguel Cabrera and Jose Lopez homered for Venezuela, which batted .347 in the first round but managed only three hits -- the other one was a triple by Endy Chavez -- against Sidney Ponson and the rest of the Dutch pitchers. That outcome combined with the nightcap sets up a Venezuela-Puerto Rico matchup on Monday, with the loser facing the team that survives today's elimination game on Tuesday. In San Diego, the four teams in Pool 1 -- two from Asia, two from Latin America -- held workouts at the venue that will host six games in the next five days, starting with today's doubleheader. The game that ended the festivities at Petco Park three years earlier, with Japan holding off Cuba for the inaugural Classic title, will begin the festivities there this time around, starting at 4 p.m. ET. "For a lot of people, they are saying that this is a retake on what we did last [time]," said Higinio Velez, manager of the Cuban team in '06 and again this year. "But, you know what? We are confronting a lot of very excellent teams. This is not like a rematch, really. This is just another game." With Cuba the only other team besides Puerto Rico to have emerged from the first round unscathed, Japan and starter Daisuke Matsuzaka of the Red Sox will have their hands full. The Cubans have won 38 of 48 international tournaments in which they've played, never finishing lower than third. In the nightcap -- emphasis on night, with an 11 p.m. ET start -- it'll be a bit of a hometown flavor for Team Mexico in its matchup with Korea, held just about 15 minutes north of the U.S.-Mexico border. It was on both sides of that border that Padres star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and his brother/teammate Edgar grew up, so it'll be family pride as well as national pride on the line today. "They are loving every minute of it," Adrian Gonzalez said of his family. "We are enjoying being together like we always do. We are blessed with a great family, and we are very happy to be a part of this and Team Mexico."
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.