MIAMI -- Baseball can be a tough and heartless game at times as Team Italy and starting shortstop Anthony Granato learned once again on Wednesday night at Marlins Park.
Italy's nice little dream run in the World Baseball Classic came to an end with a 4-3 loss to Puerto Rico. Granato's career may have ended in the harshest of manners: seated on the bench after three ground balls ate him up in the sixth inning to begin Puerto Rico's comeback from a 3-0 deficit.
"I'm sure everybody would want to go out on top and I'm the same," the 31-year-old Granato said. "Regardless of what happened in this game, we had a tough road ahead of us. Obviously, you don't want to lose in the fashion where you think you should have won it, but that's the way it goes. It won't be the last team this happens to."
While Puerto Rico remains alive in the tournament and will play again on Friday night against the loser of Thursday's big Team USA-Dominican Republic tilt, Italy is the first club out of the Pool 2 Miami bracket. Puerto Rico still has a chance to win and move on to the semifinals Sunday and Monday at AT&T Park. The Italians are going home.
Italy suffered that fate because five ground balls hit to short in the sixth and eighth innings were misplayed. Granato committed two errors in the sixth that led to Puerto Rico's first run. He was then relegated to the bench by manager Marco Mazzieri in lieu of Jack Santora, who finished off the damage.
Italy and the U.S. escaped out of Pool D this past weekend in Phoenix, largely because the Italians came from behind to steal the opener from Mexico and then trounced Canada in a game that was stopped by the 10-run mercy rule. Since then, they lost three in row, blowing a 2-0 lead to the U.S., a 4-0 lead to the Dominicans here on Tuesday, and the 3-0 edge to Puerto Rico.
"We had a lead in every game we played in this tournament," said Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs first baseman whose third-inning double gave Italy its 3-0 lead. "No one scripted it for us to be where we are, playing toe-to-toe against the best teams in every game. We stayed together, and the respect we earned in this tournament is well deserved for the entire country of Italy."
The Italians had big leaguers Rizzo, Chris Denorfia, Jason Grilli and Nick Punto, but their lack of professional depth at shortstop cost them in the end. Santora is a 36-year-old who never made it to the Majors and is unaffiliated right now after 14 Minor League seasons. Granato, who was born in Toronto and now lives in San Francisco, never made it past high-A ball in eight seasons around the Minors.
Granato hadn't played for a year when the Italians came calling again and he said this tournament may be it unless some team approaches him with a contract, adding that it seems unlikely at this point. Thus, it was an ignominious way for his career to have ground to its conclusion.
Mazzieri said it was one of his toughest decisions he ever had to make, pulling Granato from the game.
"It was a very, very tough decision," Mazzieri said. "Anthony has done so many things for us and is the main reason why we won so many games. If it would have been a regular championship season, I'm not making that decision. But I felt like it could have got into his head a little bit too much. I wouldn't have felt comfortable leaving him out there and I couldn't let the team down in that way."
Not surprisingly, the decision didn't sit very well with Granato, who said it was a matter of circumstances that he missed the first two balls off his glove and body. But on the third one, "I definitely played myself into a bad hop just to get the one out and stopped myself. But you know what? That happens."
Despite it all, Granato thought he should have been given the benefit of the doubt.
"Personally, I was upset about it. I didn't think it was right," he said. "In my mind, I looked at it [in perspective] of everything else I did for the team. Everybody makes mistakes and that's fine. But at the end of the day, he is the manager. I respect the decision and I have to live with it."
"[Baseball] breaks your heart. It's designed to break your heart," the late Commissioner of Baseball Bart Giamatti once wrote. And never is that more true than with a loss that ends a season, ends a tournament or ends a career.
While the Italian Major Leaguers will return to Spring Training with their respective teams, the other players will disperse to their personal lives wondering, what if? For Granato, who is running his own baseball academy on the peninsula just south of San Francisco, he's looking at the end of a dream that perhaps never was.
"I would say I have had a love-hate relationship with baseball," he said. "Me, I'm the type of player and the type of person, I always have higher expectations for myself than anybody else ever could. And baseball is one of those sports that you could be on cloud nine one minute and in the next minute you could be right down in the dump eating humble pie. That's what I really love about it and really hate about it.
"In the end, anything you love is what can hurt you the most. And in those bad times it does. But when it's great, there's nothing better in life."
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.