Americans sitting pretty after late homers sink Venezuela
By Chad Thornburg
Late-inning heroics from Adam Jones and Eric Hosmer vaulted the United States past Venezuela, 4-2, on Wednesday night at Petco Park in yet another World Baseball Classic thriller.
The U.S. bats were quiet throughout much of the night until Jones brought a much-needed spark with a game-tying leadoff homer in the eighth. Hosmer followed three batters later with a two-run blast that ultimately handed the U.S. a win in its second-round opener.
The victory was similar to Team USA's first-round opener, when it overcame a 2-0 deficit to defeat Colombia in extras on a walk-off single by Jones. The U.S. joins Puerto Rico atop the Pool F standings at 1-0, with Venezuela and the Dominican Republic both 0-1.
Venezuela now faces a must-win matchup with the Dominican Republic on Thursday night at 10 ET (live on MLB Network and MLB.TV). Team USA has Thursday off before resuming play Friday against Puerto Rico (10 p.m. ET, live on MLB Network and MLB.TV).
"We won a game against an unbelievable lineup," Team USA manager Jim Leyland said. "We're going to come back and play Friday against a team that's been really, really playing good. So it doesn't get any easier. All these teams that are here now are outstanding teams."
Runs were at a premium early in the contest, as both starting pitchers turned in dominant performances. Venezuela's Felix Hernandez tossed five scoreless innings and allowed just three hits, all singles. For the U.S., Mariners lefty Drew Smyly surrendered only an unearned run over 4 2/3 innings and struck out eight batters, including each of the final six he faced.
The Venezuelan lineup struggled to generate production not only against Smyly, but throughout the entire night, collecting just five hits and drawing one walk. Making matters worse, the Marlins' Martin Prado, who ranks second on the team in hits, exited in the sixth inning with a pulled hamstring, which could keep him out the remainder of the Classic, manager Omar Vizquel said. Venezuela already lost Royals All-Star catcher Salvador Perez to a knee injury in the first round.
"I'm going to study the situation," Vizquel said of his team's offensive woes. "I'm going to talk to the coaches and see what would be the best for the team, and see if that formula will create some results."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Great 8th: Jones, whose walk-off single handed U.S. the victory in its tournament opener against Colombia on Friday, again played hero for Team USA, tying Wednesday's game with a solo shot against Venezuelan reliever Hector Rondon in the eighth inning. Hosmer, MVP of the 2016 All-Star Game at Petco Park, found his San Diego stroke again with a two-run shot that proved to be the game-winner.
"I think Jones really got us going, and then we cashed in on a big one by a world champion, obviously," Leyland said. "It was a great game. I know that's easy for us to say; we won the game. But it was. It was a great game."
Added Hosmer: "After that swing from Jonesy, it just seemed like the energy in the dugout just kind of shifted to our side and really got things sparked up for our club." More >
Odor goes deep: The notoriously pitcher-friendly ballpark in San Diego swallowed a number of well-hit fly balls on Wednesday night, but in the seventh inning, Rougned Odor's line drive against U.S. reliever David Robertson managed to be the first to escape the park, increasing Venezuela's lead to 2-0. Odor's homer, his first in the tournament, traveled a Statcast-projected 422 feet and had a 104.7 mph exit velocity with a 34 degree launch angle.
Smyly shines: The lone blemish on Smyly's outing was a throwing error in the third inning. Smyly cleanly fielded a Robinson Chirinos bunt down the third-base line, but his throw to first was off the mark, sailing over Hosmer's head. The error put two runners in scoring position for Venezuela's Ender Inciarte, who plated Carlos Gonzalez with a sacrifice fly.
Although Smyly was scored upon, the run was unearned, extending Team USA's streak of starting pitchers not allowing an earned run to 17 1/3 innings in WBC 2017. The Rays' Chris Archer, Blue Jays' Marcus Stroman and Royals' Danny Duffy were unscored upon in the first round. More >
Felix extinguishes U.S. rally: Hernandez appeared to be in midseason form. He didn't allow a baserunner until there was one out into the third inning and Team USA got consecutive singles from Jonathan Lucroy, Alex Bregman and Ian Kinsler. Hernandez erased any United States momentum in the very next at-bat, however, by getting Jones to bounce into an inning-ending double play.
Hernandez's scoreless outing was a promising sign for the Venezuelan pitching staff after its starters yielded 12 runs through 12 innings in the first round. More >
"I think that we have a great team here, a lot of good players, and we're playing for our country. It's something bigger than baseball. When we were growing up, we watched the Olympics on TV, and we root for our country so hard, and I know every country in the world does that. I kind of wish it was more like that, about everybody locked in, rooting for their country and having a blast. Hopefully it will continue to grow and get more people out watching." -- Bregman
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Smyly's last pitch, to strike out Gonzalez, was his fastest of the Statcast™ era, at 94.4 mph. His previous high was 93.96 mph.
WHAT'S NEXT Venezuela: Venezuela now faces a must-win matchup with the Dominican Republic, which also lost its second-round opener, on Thursday night at 10 ET (live on MLB Network and MLB.TV).
United States: Team USA has Thursday off before resuming play Friday against Puerto Rico (10 p.m. ET, live on MLB Network and MLB.TV).
"We're looking forward to Puerto Rico coming up here," Lucroy said. "It's going to be a challenge. They're pretty hot right now. They're rolling, so I expect it to be a pretty good matchup and a lot of fun."
The World Baseball Classic runs through March 22. In the U.S., games air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. The tournament is being distributed internationally across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for games in San Diego's Petco Park and the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.
Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.