March 07, 2009
TORONTO – The tying run was in scoring position with one out, but the Canadians just fell short of completing the comeback in front of over 40,000 fans at the Rogers Centre as the United States held on to beat Canada in the opener of the World Baseball Classic by a score of 6-5.
The Canadians came into the ninth inning down by two and facing American closer J.J. Putz. With one out in the inning, Russell Martin (Chelsea, QC) hit a double off the wall to start the rally. Joey Votto (Toronto, ON) then completed his 4-for-5 day with an RBI double and reduced the lead to one.
After Justin Morneau (New Westminster, BC) grounded to short for the second out, Jason Bay (Trail, BC) came to the plate and put on quite a battle, but Putz was able to get Bay to fly out to right and hold on to the victory for the U.S.
“I think everyone saw it was a well-played game,” says Team Canada Manager Ernie Whitt. “You know, we kept the crowd involved, we had our chances, and we just came up a little short.”
Canadian starter Mike Johnson (Edmonton, AB) was solid and kept his team in the ballgame, going four innings and allowing four runs on four hits and three walks with three strikeouts. It has been awhile since Johnson pitched in this kind of atmosphere.
“It’s probably been since the late 90s,” says Johnson. “I remember pitching one game in Yankee Stadium when they were retiring Don Mattingly’s number and there were 55,000 people there.”
“But that day they weren’t really cheering for me, they were cheering against me,” adds Johnson with a laugh.
When it seemed the Americans were going to pull away, the Canadians kept clawing back. The U.S. took a two run lead in the fourth inning on a pair of home runs from Kevin Youkilis and Brian McCann, McCann’s being a two-run shot, and taking a 4-2 lead.
Canada clawed back in the sixth when Bay came in to score on a wild pitch from Joel Hanrahan and made it 4-3. But the Americans bounced right back with another two-run homer, this time from Adam Dunn and took a 6-3 lead.
After Martin made it 6-4 with a solo blast in the seventh, in the bottom half of the inning the U.S. were threatening with the bases loaded and nobody out against Phillippe Aumont (Gatineau, QC). But the 20-year-old Mariners prospect barred down and was able to retire the next three batters, including the final two via strikeout which got the capacity crowd on its feet and had Aumont pumping his fist on his way back to the dugout.
“Russ and (pitching coach) Denis Boucher came to talk to me (after loading the bases) and told me to just have fun out there,” says Aumont. “After that I was able to calm down and do my job and when I got that last out I just let my emotions hang out.”
Joey Votto had quite a day in front of the home town crowd, going 4-for-5 with a home run, double and two RBIs and was a key part of that exciting ninth inning. The fact that Team Canada has that never say die attitude in any situation has Votto excited.
“You know, it starts from the top, the older guys, that's their attitude. It's just infectious,” says Votto. “Being a younger player, like myself, I just fed off of it. And, you know, there's so much heart on the bench, and a great attitude and a never-give-up attitude.”
Team Canada will now play Italy, who suffered a 7-0 loss at the hands of Venezuela, in the elimination game on Monday, March 9th at 6:30 pm at the Rogers Centre.