03/10/09 1:15 AM ET
Canada eliminated from Classic
Host country unable to pick up victory in two games in tournament
By David Singh / Special to MLB.com
As an underdog in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, the Canadians staged a dramatic upset over the mighty Team USA. Then, the forward progress continued in Game 1 of this year's Classic, as Canada pushed the Americans to the limit in a heartbreaking 6-5 loss on Saturday.
But on Monday at Rogers Centre, Canada was left stunned by Team Italy in a devastating 6-2 loss in Pool C play -- one that eliminated the host country from the Classic and had it searching for answers.
"We came in expecting to take a step forward, and I feel like we took a little step back," said Canadian first baseman Justin Morneau, whom one reporter described as looking "shell-shocked" following the loss.
"You know, we -- in '06 -- we played the U.S. tough, and we ended up winning that game. We played them tough again [on Saturday], and came up a little short. We felt like we had a team good enough to go to Miami for the second round, and instead, we lose two straight at home -- in our own backyard."
What made the loss so tough to the Canadian squad was that it boasted a lineup chock-full of All-Star Major League hitters. On the other side of the diamond, Italy featured a group of relative unknowns.
"It's very difficult," said Joey Votto, Canada's designated hitter. "From my experience, it was the most emotional, most disappointing loss I've ever been a part of. It's really, really disappointing. I think it's going to take some time to recover from this."
During its two tournament matches, the highly touted Canadian offense did not live up to the hype it received heading into the Classic. In its two games, Canada combined to hit just .176 (3-for-17) with runners in scoring position. In Monday's loss to Italy, the Canadians stranded 11 baserunners.
"You know, on paper we're supposed to win it," said Canadian slugger Jason Bay. "But you don't play the game on paper. And, you know, we didn't get any big hits when we needed them. We had runners out there ... but we definitely left a lot out there. All we needed was that one big hit to get the momentum back on our side, and we never got it."
The Italian lineup struck early and often at the start of the game, scoring lone runs in each of the first four innings. Wielding a hot bat, Italy center fielder Chris Denorfia helped to send the largely pro-Canadian crowd of 12,411 home disappointed, going 4-for-4 with three doubles and two RBIs.
Denorfia and the Italians were able to chase Canadian starter Vince Perkins from the game by the third inning. Exhausting 52 pitches out of the right-hander, Italy drew four walks, notched three hits and scored three runs -- two earned -- against Perkins, who admitted to being nervous on the mound.
"There were obviously some nerves that played into it, [because] that's not the way I've been throwing lately," said Perkins, who has no Major League experience.
"The bottom line was, I felt like I let the guys down. I didn't set the tempo early and do what I needed to do. It's tough to come back from that."
Perkins exited the game with Canada trailing, 2-0 -- reliever T.J. Burton came in for the righty and gave up a run that was charged to Perkins. But those three runs proved too much for the Canadian bats to overcome, though. The only offense Canada could muster came in the fourth inning, when Votto, Morneau and Bay clubbed consecutive doubles off Italian starter Dan Serafini, cutting the score to 4-2. But a pair of Italian relievers -- Chris Cooper and Jason Grilli -- managed to lock down the Canadian lineup the rest of the way, combining to allow just three hits and no runs.
"Needless to say, I think everyone in [Canada's] locker room's very disappointed," said manager Ernie Whitt, who was in his sixth tour as the field boss of the Canadian National Team.
"I think this is one of the toughest losses that I've been associated with, with Team Canada. In retrospect, you have to tip your hat to team Italy. They shut down a very powerful offensive team."
David Singh is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.