PHOENIX – Donning a maple leaf on the sleeve of the Team Canada jersey is a highlight for any player, manager or coach on the country’s World Baseball Classic roster.
But this year’s team is interested in more than representing Canada. It is hoping to make an impact on the tournament.
Team Canada has never advanced beyond the group stages in five previous tries in WBC play, and the Canadians only qualified this year through their appearance in 2017. The Canadians have a 2-7 record in World Baseball Classic play following Sunday’s 18-8 mercy-rule win against Great Britain but they can make some real noise Monday when they face one of the event’s favorites, Team USA.
“The U.S. team, on paper, they’re pretty sound,” said Team Canada manager Ernie Whitt after the Sunday victory. “I think their 2006 team was pretty solid, too. Right now, we’re celebrating this win, and we’ll take it one day at a time. And we come out tomorrow and you play the game to win. And that’s what we’re going to do.”
Canada earned some redemption since falling out of the group stages in 2017 after an 8-0 loss to the United States. The team’s focus entering the matchup was to produce runs – and the Canadians delivered. Sunday’s combined 26 total runs scored set a WBC record.
“I’d like to score 18 every game we play. It will make it a little bit easier,” Whitt said. “Great Britain, they just kept battling, battling back. But as Tyler (O’Neill) said, we had some great at-bats. We grinded out our at-bats. We took our walks and we capitalized on some of the mistakes they made.”
Team Canada trailed 3-0 in the top of the first inning but started a rally when current Minnesota Twins prospect and 2022 Arizona Fall League alumni Edouard Julien smashed a solo home run to right center field on the first pitch of his at-bat.
“I just treated that at-bat like a normal one, not the first one of the game,” Julien said. “My plan was to hit a fastball up in the zone. And I knew he had a good changeup, and he threw the first pitch, a fastball up, and I was fortunate to put a good swing on it.”
Owen Caissie, a current outfielder in the Chicago Cubs organization, was clad in the maple leaf for the first time Sunday but that wasn’t the most memorable part of his debut.
“I’m not going to lie, the win. The win is pretty good,” Caissie said. “Obviously, hitting is cool. But honestly, just a great team win, like the guys said before. We were down a little bit at the start, and Eddie (Julien) hit a nice lead-off bomb and it got us going. But definitely the win for sure.”
While Great Britain only had two players with major league playing time in Vance Worley and Trayce Thompson, the Brits battled until the end. The Canadians had an answer for every score and blew the game open with a six-run fourth inning.
The key to Team Canada’s continued success in the tournament lies in being able to control at-bats in long offensive innings.
When asked about their tactics to keep composure when grinding out at-bats, St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Tyler O’Neill said that it’s all game dependent, as sometimes a player will want to shoot the ball the other way and sometimes they want to take pitches.
Julien agrees that the team’s patience paid off.
“I think, every time, we don’t go out there to walk. I think the pitchers were just getting behind in the counts,” Julien said. “We have good hitters in this lineup, like they said. And we’re patient and we’re about to drive the ball like we showed today. And we did a good job.”
In Sunday’s matchup, the mercy rule went into effect as Canada was leading by 10 runs going into the seventh inning.
The Canadians were grateful that the game ended early, but it was still a long night for a team that had to turn around and face the United States in Monday night’s WBC nightcap at Chase Field.
“As long as we’re not getting mercied, that’s fine,” Whitt said of the outcome. “But believe me, we wanted to end it in the seventh inning. We were out on that field for a long time today. There were a lot of pitches thrown. We just want to get the players off their feet and get ready for (Monday night).”