3/11/2013 3:22 P.M. ET
U.S. eager for Gio's Classic debut against P.R.
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
MIAMI -- Team USA and Puerto Rico escaped from their tough brackets in Arizona and San Juan, P.R., respectively, this past weekend, and now, the real fun begins at Marlins Park.
Neither team will have much time to relax before opening up Pool 2 against each other on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET -- a game being broadcast live on MLB Network and ESPN Deportes. Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez will get the start against Mario Santiago, a 28-year-old right-hander from the Dodgers organization who has seven years of Minor League experience. The other two countries to advance to Pool 2 -- Italy and the Dominican Republic -- will meet at 1 p.m.
Tickets for all six games in the pool are available at worldbaseballclassic.com. Fans who present a Grapefruit League ticket at the box office for either game on Tuesday will receive admission at a cost of $5.
Team USA manager Joe Torre said he knew this event was something special when he received a call from Jorge Posada, his catcher for many years when Torre managed the Yankees.
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"He told me he was going to pull for Puerto Rico, which is understandable," Torre said to some laughter during his news conference. "And then he asked me for tickets. I mean, I love this young man, and I'm getting him the tickets."
Gonzalez, who grew up in nearby Hialeah, Fla., piped up when asked if he had experienced an overwhelming demand for tickets. Gio said that he expected numerous friends and family members to be in the ballpark, but not at his expense.
"The last time I was I here, [I had to provide] over 600 tickets," said Gonzalez, who lost to the Marlins in Miami last July 14 despite allowing only a pair of runs on five hits in six innings. "I think all of Hialeah came. So I learned my lesson: Just six tickets. These things are expensive. That's it. If you guys want to watch, it's either on TV, or come and support over here. Give us a little love."
For Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez, it's also a homecoming of sorts. Rodriguez managed the Marlins for about a year when they played at Sun Life Stadium, home of the National Football League's Dolphins. He was 78-85 at the time of his dismissal during the 2011 season.
"This is a nice feeling," Rodriguez said. "This is a big league stadium with big league players. It's my first time in this place managing, so definitely, it's a great feeling to be here. People that I worked with and the fans were really a big support when I was here."
The U.S. survived Pool D, defeating Italy and Canada after losing to Mexico in its first game of the Classic. The Americans emerged as the top seed out of Pool D, and Puerto Rico was the No. 2 seed in Pool C despite securing a second-round spot quickly by beating Spain and Venezuela. Puerto Rico lost to the D.R. in Pool C's final game, played on Sunday night.
Asked to compare the brackets, Rodriguez said that the games down at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in Puerto Rico prepared his team for anything.
"We just came from a bracket where the lineups put out there by the Dominicans and Venezuelans have to be two of the top in the entire WBC," Rodriguez said. "Because we came from such a tough bracket, our pitchers and hitters have to feel more comfortable and a lot more confident. Against the U.S., we're going to stay with the same approach -- attacking the strike zone.
"The U.S. lineup goes head to head with the D.R. and Venezuela when you're talking about Miguel Cabrera, Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes. Right now, we feel we can compete with those guys."
After playing Ben Zobrist in right field on Sunday in his club's decisive 9-4 win over Canada, Torre will have Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton back in the starting lineup vs. Puerto Rico. Stanton was 0-for-7 in the first two games of Pool D.
Gonzalez, who was not with the Americans in the Phoenix area, will be making his first appearance of the Classic.
With two Latin teams competing in the 1-year-old ballpark set in the Little Havana neighborhood, on the edge of downtown Miami, the rooting interest of the crowd is expected to have a decided Hispanic influence. To wit, when Mexico defeated the U.S., 5-2, on Friday night at Chase Field, the crowd of 44,256 -- the largest so far of the tournament -- was in favor of Team Mexico.
"The crowd here could take the energy to the next level," said Shane Victorino, the Maui, Hawaii, native who played left field for the U.S. on Sunday but will be back on the bench vs. Puerto Rico. "There's a lot of pride that comes into this, especially coming down here. Will the Americans be at a disadvantage? I think so. Look at the games in San Juan. Every single night, the place was packed. I think here, it's going to be wild; it's going to be crazy."
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow@boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.