After two days without much drama for the United States, it got all it could have asked for from Canada, and then some. With so much at stake for both teams on this day, you would not have expected this game to disappoint.
The final score of 9-4 doesn't do justice to how competitive this game was. It was 5-4 entering the top of the ninth, but the U.S. was able to blow things wide open with four runs, including three on a bases-loaded double by Eric Hosmer.
A ton of late-inning drama resulted in the United States squeezing out a victory thanks to some heroics from Adam Jones, who hit a go-ahead two-run double in the top of the eighth.
The United States and Canada knew their respective fate before Saturday's games were completed. Italy had already locked up one of the top two spots in Pool D. This game would serve as the final piece of the second-round puzzle, with the winner moving on and the loser going home.
Joe Torre's managing tactics were a huge source of controversy on Twitter early in this game. David Wright and Ben Zobrist reached base to start the second inning. Adam Jones came to the plate and for reasons still unclear to logical-thinking humans laid down a sacrifice bunt.
The bunt was successful, with Wright and Zobrist moving to third and second. But Wright ran home on a groundball to Taylor Green and Shane Victorino grounded out to end the inning for the U.S.
Baseball writer Wendy Thurm had the best sarcastic Tweet on the situation. It was short and simple, yet made its point very well.
Wendy Thurm @hangingsliders
Well, I for one am shocked the bunt didn't work out.3/10/2013, 8:28:27 PM
Survive and advance has been the model for the United States thus far, and it was able to do just that against a very game Canadian team that had the U.S. on the ropes but couldn't quite put the game away.
Here is a look at the key players from today's game, as well as a look ahead to what awaits the United States in the second round.
Grades for United States
Derek Holland, SP
5 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K
After a rocky start, in which he gave up a two-run home run to Michael Saunders in the second inning and struggled with his command in the zone, Holland really settled into a groove after giving up the two runs.
Holland's five innings are the most for a U.S. starter so far in this tournament, and he was actually under the 65-pitch limit when he was taken out after the fifth inning.
The United States has not had great starting pitching in the World Baseball Classic, and Holland was certainly shaky early, but this was a terrific outing from a pitcher who looked like he could make an early exit.
Glen Perkins, RP
1 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 K
The U.S. bullpen was lights out against Italy on Saturday night, with Jeremy Affeldt and Ross Detwiler combining to go five innings and give Joe Torre virtually an entire army to choose from as he saw fit.
Perkins was the first person to get the call, as he relieved Holland to start the sixth inning. He has been dominant against left-handed hitters throughout his career, limiting them to a .192/.236/.253 in 2012.
However, on this particular day, lefties were seeing Perkins well. Joey Votto walked, Justin Morneau singled to move Votto to second. After Chris Robinson's fly ball to right field let Votto take third, Adam Loewen singled him home to give Canada a 3-2 lead.
Adam Jones, CF
1-for-3, 2B, 3 RBI, 1 Run Scored (Go-ahead two-run double in eighth inning)
For the third straight game, the United States' bats struggled to get things going. David Wright masked those deficiencies on Saturday night with a grand slam. Sunday, it was Adam Jones' turn in the spotlight.
In addition to driving in three runs, Jones delivered the big blow for Team USA with a two-run double that scored Willie Bloomquist and David Wright to give the United States a 4-3 lead.
Jones was at the center of some fan and media controversy early in the game, when Joe Torre had him bunt in the second inning with runners on first and second with no one out. It was way too early and conservative to be playing for one run, and the U.S. failed to score a run that inning.
At least Jones was given a chance to show what he can do when you let him swing the bat with runners in scoring position, coming through in a big spot.
Grades for Canada
Jameson Taillon, SP
4 IP, 4 H, 2 R (1 ER), 1 BB, 3K
There was a lot of pressure on Taillon's shoulders in this game. Not only is he one of the most highly-regarded pitching prospects in baseball, so fans have at least some idea of who he is, but he is also just 21 years old and has 17 innings of experience at Double-A.
Going up against a lineup filled with Major League Baseball All-Stars could have been an intimidating experience for Taillon.
Instead, he settled into a nice groove early and only ran into trouble because his defense had a couple of miscues. Taillon showed the good fastball-curveball combination that has made him one of the top pitching prospects in baseball.
A very impressive four-inning start for Taillon, all things considered.
Michael Saunders, OF
2-for-4, HR, 2 RBI, 1 Run Scored, 1 K
Watching this event has to be hard for fans of the Seattle Mariners, because Michael Saunders is tearing the cover off the ball right now.
After going 4-for-4 with two doubles, three RBI and two runs scored against Mexico, Saunders started the scoring for Canada against the United States on Sunday by hitting a long two-run home run off Derek Holland in the second inning.
Saunders has been lights out in this tournament, hitting .700 through in Pool D. There are a lot of easy outs in the Canadian lineup outside of Votto, Morneau and Saunders, so it was imperative they played well today for their team to win.
It is safe to say that Saunders more than held up his end of the bargain, yet again.
Jimmy Henderson, RP
0.2 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 1 K
Canada's pitching was cruising after Taillon was taken out after the fourth inning. Dustin Molleken and Phillippe Aumont went three innings, giving up just three hits, no runs, no walks and one strikeout.
Then came the eighth inning, when Jimmy Henderson took the mound for Canada. Everything fell apart, as he gave up a single to Joe Mauer and walked David Wright before Adam Jones hit the go-ahead double.
All the momentum Canada had built up to that point was gone and left the team searching for answers too late.
Canada's run in the World Baseball Classic is over. It finished with a 1-2 record, with the lone victory coming against Mexico.
The United States, by virtue of winning Pool D, will take on the loser of the Dominican Republic-Puerto Rico game that is scheduled for Sunday night. The U.S. game will be played at Marlins Park in Miami on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET.
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