PHOENIX – The America-heavy crowd at Chase Field roared in anticipation as an 0-2 count with two outs signaled a U.S. victory was near in the seventh inning Monday at Chase Field.
St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Miles Mikolas hit the outside corner to strike out Oakland Athletics prospect Denzel Clarke of Team Canada, triggering the tournament’s “mercy rule” in a crucial 12-1 U.S. victory in Group C stage play in the World Baseball Classic.
Following an 11-5 loss to Team Mexico, the Americans entered Monday’s matchup facing a make-or-break situation. Now, manager Mark DeRosa’s team stands one win away from advancing to the quarterfinals. Team USA returns to action Wednesday against Team Colombia.
DeRosa said before Monday’s game that he wasn’t looking too deep into the current standings of Group C, but noted that Great Britain’s 7-5 victory over Columbia Monday was certainly a “positive.”
“I just want us to relax a little bit. I’d like to get in the dugout bottom of the first, not down and kind of give everybody a chance to exhale and let these top four guys do their thing,” DeRosa said.
DeRosa got his wish, and more.
Team USA plated nine first-inning runs against 19-year-old Mitch Bratt to tie the World Baseball Classic record for runs in an inning. Nolan Arenado’s RBI double gave the Stars and Stripes a 2-0 lead, chasing Bratt after only 25 pitches and scoring six earned runs to spoil the young hurler’s first WBC outing.
“You know, I put him (Bratt) in a tough situation. So I’ll take the heat for that,” said Team Canada manager Ernie Witt. “But he’s going to be fine. He’ll be fine. His attitude was, ‘If I get him out, it’s a bonus. If I don’t, well, that’s an All-Star team over there.’ And he knows that he’s got work to do.”
Witt attributed Canada’s loss to falling behind in the count early and allowing too many early walks. However, while Canada’s defense was lacking, Team USA’s offensive showing Monday was formidable.
The Americans produced three multi-base hits and two home runs in the first two innings, setting DeRosa’s plan in motion. Lance Lynn’s dominant start on the mound backed the bats to give Team USA full command.
Lynn finished his outing after reaching the 65-pitch limit in five innings of one-run ball while allowing two hits and striking out six. He mentioned postgame that the fast start in the first inning made his job easier on the mound.
“Especially after losing last night,” Lynn said. “You knew you had to come out with some energy, and I knew if I had to do it early on and let the kids get back in the dugout with the ability to take the lead, we had a good chance.”
DeRosa said that Lynn’s performance was huge in helping to reset the United States bullpen going into Wednesday’s final Group C stage matchup.
“It kind of went perfect. Nine runs in the first. Everyone was relaxed. Everyone was a part of it, passing the baton,” DeRosa said postgame. “Mikey (Trout) went deep. Trea Turner went deep. But the story for me will be Lance Lynn taking it right to 65 pitches, getting through five innings, allowing Miles (Mikolas) to come in with a clean inning, no traffic. Everything we needed.”
DeRosa noted the other key to Monday’s success against the Canadians was the inexperience of Bratt on the mound, combined with timely hits.
Trout, the Angels star, agreed.
“I think obviously tough loss last night,” he said. “We came in with a little swagger. I think it woke us up a little bit. The message for us was go out there and, bang, be ourselves.
“I think the first couple of games we were just trying to feel ourselves. But today we came in just with a mindset of, we’re going to dominate. And you put that pressure on a group, that’s what’s going to happen. We came out, put up nine runs early for the starter and that was huge.”
The main storyline of the week for Team USA has been White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson, to whom DeRosa has given high praise throughout the tournament.
The 2021 All-Star was asked by DeRosa earlier Monday if he would switch sides of the bag and take on second base, to which he replied: “I was open to it.
“It seemed like an obvious fit to try and see who could go over there, feel more comfortable going over there. And he said he would have no problem doing it,” DeRosa said of Anderson. “What a talented ballplayer, honestly, giving us a spark, giving us an edge in the lineup, in the dugout. I wanted him in there today. Today was a big game for us.”
With another must-win situation against Team Colombia Wednesday night, the U.S. goal is to soak in the win against Canada while mentally preparing for what’s at stake.
“Obviously, we turn our attention to Colombia, and we’ll be ready to go and understand the magnitude of that game,” DeRosa said. “I just think for us, with some of the stipulations and parameters that we’re playing under to protect certain pitchers, or your entire pitching staff, really, we needed to reset in a big way after last night. And Lance provided it.”