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Venezuela's bullpen succumbs to USA

Early lead quickly erased during eight-run sixth inning

In one-plus inning, reliever Victor Zambrano allowed four runs on two hits. (Elsa/Getty)

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TORONTO -- Heading into the World Baseball Classic, Team Venezuela was aware of its weakest link. The squad boasts an All-Star lineup of hitters who are complemented nicely by a group of talented starting pitchers. Its Achilles' heel, though, was the club's middle-relief corps.

On Sunday at Rogers Centre, Achilles reared his head, as the Venezuelan bullpen allowed Team USA to string together a monstrous sixth inning en route to a 15-6 victory in Game 3 of Pool C play.

"We all know that maybe the bullpen is the big question mark with us, and it looked like a disaster," said Venezuelan manager Luis Sojo. "That's the reality. I think the best thing to do is to motivate them for the next game."

On Sunday, Venezuela entered the sixth inning leading, 3-2, before things turned ugly.

A trio of Venezuelan relievers -- Victor Zambrano, Carlos Vasquez and Yoel Hernandez -- could not stop the bleeding in the sixth inning, as they surrendered a total of eight runs, which allowed the U.S. to take a commanding lead.

Zambrano loaded the bases and then immediately walked in a run before even recording an out in the frame. He was removed for Vasquez, who promptly surrendered a double to USA catcher Chris Iannetta that reached the right-center-field wall and cleared the bases.

"This can't happen, and I'm really upset," Sojo said. "And [our relievers] should know it, because they know, as professionals, their job is to throw strikes, and they weren't doing their job."

Also in the sixth inning, U.S. second baseman Dustin Pedroia laced a two-run double down the third-base line. One batter later, his Boston Red Sox teammate, Kevin Youkilis, then capped off the monstrous frame with a two-run home run that sailed over the left-field wall and increased the American lead to 10-3.

The U.S. offense did not stop its barrage after the sixth, as it tagged on five more runs over the next three frames. In total, the Americans banged out 16 hits, seven of which were for extra bases. Mark DeRosa and Iannetta each had four RBIs, while Adam Dunn and Ryan Braun also launched solo home runs.

"[Our relievers] couldn't find the strike zone," Sojo said. "And when you get under in the count in front of these professional Major League players from the United States, you're always going to get this kind of consequence."

If there was one bright spot for the Venezuelans, it was the hitting display put on by second baseman Jose Lopez. His three doubles in Sunday's contest tied a Classic record. The Seattle Mariners' All-Star has been on a tear during this year's Classic, going 6-for-7 with five doubles in the first two games of the tournament.

"In this Classic, I'm not here to play around," Lopez said. "I'm here to win."

Venezuelan starter Armando Galarraga delivered a solid performance in the no-decision. The right-hander allowed two runs on five hits over his four innings. He walked one, struck out four and tossed 64 pitches.

Venezuela now faces elimination on Tuesday at 5 p.m. ET against the winner of Monday's matchup between Canada and Italy. Meanwhile, the U.S. will next play in the Pool C finale on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m., and it is assured of advancing to Miami for the second round.

"We're hoping to win on Tuesday," said Sojo. "We have to win so we can get to the next round."

David Singh is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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