3/6/2013 7:22 P.M. ET
Liddi, Italy strike first, but fall in tuneup against Angels
By Spencer Fordin / MLB.com
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arrivederci!
Manager Mike Scioscia and the Angels bid Team Italy a safe voyage Wednesday, when they played in one last exhibition game prior to World Baseball Classic pool play on Thursday. Scioscia, an Italian-American, had no conflict of interest in watching his team run away with a 12-6 win over Italy.
"They're trying to beat us," said Scioscia in the moments after the six-run victory. "It was a good game. Those guys, we wish them well for their Classic, which opens up tomorrow."
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The Angels held the lead for most of the game, but it took a serious rally to put Team Italy away. Italy scratched out two runs in the eighth inning to make it a 5-5 game, but the Angels managed to get 10 straight hitters to reach base in the bottom half en route to a seven-run closing rally.
Team Italy was competitive early on, when it scored a run off Halos ace Jered Weaver in the first inning. The Angels took control of the game with a three-run double to straightaway center by prospect Kaleb Cowart in the bottom half of the inning and never trailed from there.
But the game wasn't without its drama. Alex Liddi, the first Italian-born player to make it to the Majors, pounded a two-run home run in the sixth to make it a 4-3 game. The Angels scratched out an insurance run, and Italy tied the game on a two-out double by Mike Costanzo in the eighth inning.
That's when the Angels took control. Eric Stamets started the winning rally by singling and stealing second in the bottom of the eighth, and Randal Grichuck gave the home team a lead with a two-run triple. Brendan Harris doubled in one run and scored on a double by Kole Calhoun.
"We're very happy with the way we performed today," said Marco Mazzieri, manager of Team Italy. "We had ourselves a ballgame until the eighth. That last inning, I don't even think about because we had to borrow some guys from the Angels. They're not even on our roster."
Weaver, who declined an invitation to play for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, worked three innings and held Team Italy to three hits. Weaver, battling his command, threw first-pitch balls to each of the first eight batters he faced, but he struck out five batters and didn't issue any free passes.
"I took it just like any other team," said Weaver of Team Italy. "You're just trying to get your work in no matter who you're facing out there. They've got some big league guys in their lineup and some guys that can swing the bat. No matter what jersey they've got on ... you take it the same way."
The first four batters for Team Italy -- Nick Punto, Chris Denorfia, Anthony Rizzo and Liddi -- all have Major League experience. The Angels gave all of their regulars the day off on Wednesday, but they did have Weaver and a few players who have gotten at least a cup of coffee in the big leagues.
Team Italy will begin its pool play on Thursday against Mexico, and it will continue on to play Canada on Friday. The final game of the opening round will pit Italy against the United States on Saturday. Mazzieri said that Italy can take confidence in knowing that it beat Team USA in the Baseball World Cup in 2007.
"This is one of the first things that I told my guys when I took over in 2007: One single game, you never know what can happen," he said. "Maybe they kind of underestimate us and they don't go out as ready as they should. If we pitch good and minimize mistakes, we can maximize results."
The Angels have lost Erick Aybar to the Dominican Republic for the Classic, and prospects Effren Navarro and Fernando Cabrera are also away from the team. Scioscia said that playing in the tourney is a wonderful opportunity and that he enjoyed helping Team Italy get ready.
"It doesn't matter if you're Italian-American, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Dominican or you're from Georgia," said Scioscia. "Just like anybody in the game of baseball, you're always proud of your heritage and where you're from and what it represents. I'm proud to be Italian and I think everyone on that field is proud of their roots and where they come from. I'm just happy I'm in a country where you have a chance to play a game that you're passionate about like baseball. That doesn't happen everywhere."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.