08/16/08 3:57 AM ET
Team USA rallies to beat Canada
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
In the case of the United States team, it also is a chance to breathe a lot easier.
The U.S. improved to 2-2 in the preliminary round Saturday after wiping out a harrowing 4-0 deficit against Canada and leaving Wukesong Field 2 with a 5-4 victory. Play will resume for the U.S. on Monday night when right-hander Jake Arietta starts against China, and that will begin three straight games followed by the semifinal cutdown.
Canada dropped to 1-3, and all three losses have been heartbreaking, one-run games. There is such a fine line in this tournament between the top and bottom of the standings, and such is the nature of international ball. One minute you are fuming over a loss to Cuba in 11 innings that cost you a key player, and the next minute you are calculating whether you might see a Korea or a Japan in the semis -- so that in a perfect world you could get that rematch against Cuba in a gold medal game.
"We needed every game," said Cardinals Triple-A infielder Brian Barden, who replaced injured Rockies prospect Jayson Nix at second base on Saturday and scored two key runs. "You don't know how it's going to turn out. All you can control is going out there and played good baseball. (Monday) we'll come back out here with the same gameplan."
Many people can take credit for this comeback victory, and by all accounts you can put Davey Johnson's coaches right at the top of the list. After starter Brett Anderson bailed himself out by starting a 1-6-3 double play to end the top of the fourth, there was considerable shouting in the U.S. dugout during the changeover. Those were coaches trying to fire up the highly prized offensive prodigies in this lineup.
Marcel Lachemann, for one, said what a lot of people were thinking.
And he said it very loudly.
"You heard me out there, huh?" said the U.S. pitching coach, who managed the Angels from 1994-96 and has been around the big leagues a long time. "I didn't think people could hear me. Just don't quote me on what I said."
To paraphrase, it was a swift verbal kick in the white-knit butts of the home team, which would have to rally from 4-0 at that point. All the U.S. had managed to that point was a single by designated hitter John Gall. Matt LaPorta -- maybe the biggest name on this team as the key player sent to Cleveland in the CC Sabathia deal -- hit that huge three-run homer to back Stephen Strasburg against The Netherlands but was otherwise putting the "O" in "Olympics" by going 0-for-13 with a streak going of five straight strikeouts.
Lachemann knows a pivotal moment when he sees one, and turning that big double play into a turning point was one.
"It's kind of tough," Lachemann said. "You play day games here when you're used to night games mainly, and these really are morning games. They think they're grinding, and sometimes you gotta get on them and push harder."
Barden began the turnaround immediately by hitting a home run off James Avery to start the fourth.
"We came here and started out hitting in the cages," Barden said. "We all knew we needed this game, had sort of a fire in our bellies. Our coaches yelled at us to pull things together, so we were like, 'Let's wake up. Let's go out there and make some solid swings and get guys in.'"
Terry Tiffee and Matt Brown each hit Avery hard after Barden but had deep flyouts, and then Nate Schierholtz raked a double to right.
LaPorta was hit by a pitch. Then Gall singled to load the bases to score Schierholtz, and it was 4-2. Robert Swindell came on to replace Avery, and struck out catcher Lou Marson to end the threat, but cutting the deficit in half was at least the start of something.
"I still felt confident at 4-0," Johnson said. "I was really happy that Rick (Eckstein) and Lach yelled out at that time. If I do that, no one hears me. I need a loudspeaker. It did pick us up, no doubt about it."
That pattern continued through the game, as the U.S. chipped away at the damage that had been done with Anderson struggling early.
"I was rushing myself a little bit," Anderson explained. "I had to keep myself balanced. I had to trust my stuff. My stuff is good enough to get them out."
Dexter Fowler was driven in by yet another double by Tiffee. That run made it 4-3, and in the seventh, the U.S. manufactured a run as Marson walked, was bunted to second by Jason Donald and scored on Barden's double.
Finally, the score was tied. Then Tiffee did it again, doubling to the gap in left-center to score Barden with the eventual game-winner. That one came off lefty Rheal Cormier, the reliever who made 683 appearances in the Majors from 1991-2007 but is unsigned this year.
"(Cormier) made a couple of good pitches ahead of that one," Tiffee said. "He got ahead of me. I decided to be patient and wait for a good one.
"We can't come out dead again," he added. "That just can't happen anymore."
Not lost in this game was the dazzling performance by Brian Duensing, the Twins' Triple-A starter who is working out of the bullpen here. Johnson has little lefty availability on this roster, and, against the predominantly lefty-hitting Canadian lineup he used two on Saturday in Anderson and Duensing. The switch happened in the sixth, when Canada put runners on first and second with two out and still protecting a 4-3 lead at the time.
Adam Stern, who had driven in Canada's fourth run in his previous at-bat, was caught looking in a huge out for the U.S.
"It was a pretty tough situation," said Duensing. "I am not accustomed to relieving. Coming in, Stern is a pretty fast guy and a lot of their lefties were taking some pitches to left field. We were pitching them out a lot and I was just trying to keep him off balance by throwing a slider and something hard outside. Fortunately on that last pitch, I froze him with that slider."
"(Duensing) did a phenomenal job backing me up," Anderson said. "Hopefully, I will get to pitch in the medal round."
That will be on Aug. 23. The field will be reduced from eight to four after all clubs have played seven games (one against each other), and that will happen by ranking them by won-lost standings and then a tiebreaker of head-to-head if needed. Should there be a three-way tie, run differential will be used as a tiebreaker.
But first, Johnson has some plans.
After being all riled up about Cuba's late victory over his team and the injury to Nix, after managing another comeback thriller, he's outta here Sunday.
"I'm going to the Great Wall," Johnson said. "We'll deal with China the next day. My guys do need the day off, so I'm going to give it to them."
The guys could use the rest. It has been a tournament of electricity, virtually every game a thriller. The U.S. and Canada each could be 4-0, just as Cuba is now. One-run games have been common, probably a sign of drama to come this next week.
"This is a good example of what international baseball can be," Canada manager and former Astros regular Terry Puhl said. "This is why the Olympics should consider bringing baseball back in 2016. Have you not seen better ballgames day in and day out? This is competitive baseball because of the structure of how you get here. There is no reason why baseball should not be reinstated."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.