* LHP Jeff Francis is vying for a job in the Colorado Rockies rotation was there in spirit as Canada was thumped by Italy, beat Mexico and lost to Team USA five outs away from advancing to the second round of the World Baseball Classic. .... ELSEWHERE .... JEFF PASSAN -- American Exceptionalism: USA overcomes upstart Canada .... BOB NIGHTENGALE -- USA saves face, five outs from having to qualify .... JIM CAPLE -- Torre managed with spring training routine .... KEVIN KERNAN -- Woe Canada: U.S. rallies to advance .... DAVID LENNON -- Hosmer, Jones lead Team USA .... ANTHONY MCCARRON -- How do you spell relief J-O-N-E-S .... TYLER KILLIAN -- Torre compared it to Game 7 of the post-season .... DOUG MILLER -- Canada’s Saunders shows presence with pool MVP honours .... MELISSA COUTO -- Martin: “These borders weren’t there eight million years ago.” .... TODD ROSIAK -- Fighting for a spot with Brewers, Green chose to play
By Bob Elliott
PHOENIX _ Jeff Francis was wearing his CANADA shirt at Chase Field Saturday night.
That’s when players from free-trade partners, Mexico and Canada, decided to drop the gloves and bats and make you wonder whether WBC stood for: World Baseball Classic or World Boxing Confederation?
Fighting for a spot in the Colorado Rockies rotation, Francis said Monday he’d never been involved in such a violent brawl like that or even seen anything like it.
Punches were thrown.
Separate skirmishes broke out.
Peacemakers were outnumbered by haymakers.
As a refresher Chris Robinson led off the ninth, with Canada up by six, dropping a bunt single.
Had this happened on July 14 in the majors, or class-A Asheville or Greg Cranker Field in Mississauga what happened next is what would have happened for breaking baseball’s unwritten rules.
Yet WBC teams were told in pre-tournament meetings not to get angry if opposing teams steal in lopsided games or try to run up the score, for teams were not rubbing it in, but trying to boost totals for the tie-breaking run differential.
And if the same happened on July 14 the pitcher likely wouldn’t have had three shots at Rene Tosoni as Arnold Leon did before hitting the Canadian hitter.
“I thought it escalated further than it should,” said Francis. “Any time I’ve come off the bench it’s usually people shouting at each other, maybe some pushing.
“I couldn’t tell who was hitting who, it was a giant sea of red.”
Francis sensed the crowd getting rowdy, saw fist fights break begin in the grandstand and ducked out in his CANADA shirt before the game resumed.
The next day at camp in Scottsdale, Francis saw lefty Jorge De La Rosa and Vinny Castilla, special assistant to Rockies boss Dan O’Dowd. Castilla managed Mexico in the 2009 WBC and it was Castilla Francis hit in the elbow in 2006 in the first inning as Mexico eliminated Canada.
“We talked about the fight, we didn’t joke about it,” said Francis. “We all acknowledged how crazy it got and how it had been a good game until then.”
Francis was impressed seeing Chris Leroux and lefty Andrew Albers against Mexico.
“I’d met Chris, but I’d never seen him pitch,” said Francis. “He battled, he got the double play in the first and they didn’t turn it. He minimized damage, had guys swing over his curve.”
Albers, who pitched at double-A last season struck out left-handed hitting slugger Adrian Gonzalez, as Francis noted “I saw him take a little bit off, throwing a slow curve.”
Francis was at the Friday game as well but had to leave with Canada trailing 6-2 against Italy.
He faced the Los Angeles Dodgers Sunday at Scottsdale, extending his scoreless spring to 13 innings with four zeros. He retired one of the five hitters he saw in the fifth.
Francis entered the Rockies clubhouse with the Team USA-Canada game in the sixth with the score tied 2-2.
Canada went ahead as Chris Robinson singled on a 10-pitch, at-bat against David Hernandez in the seventh and then Brandon Phillips stole a two-run single from Adam Loewen, as Loewen knocked in a run giving Canada a 3-2 lead.
Five outs from advancing to the second round, Team USA scored three and added four in the ninth for a 9-4 win.
“Some guys gave me some heck when USA rallied,” said Francis, “but after they were also very complimentary and surprised at how well we did. Michael Cuddyer, some others and a couple of trainers were impressed at some of the at-bats we put together.
“I was happy the way Robinson played the whole tournament, I told him I was proud to tell everyone he was my catch partner during the winter.”
Francis now lives in London and works out with Robinson at Adam Stern’s Centre Field sports indoor facility.
Pete Orr, Robinson and Francis went out for diner before the WBC began.
As for Francis status in the Rockies rotation. Well, besides De La Rosa, contenders for starting jobs include Jhoulys Chacin, Juan Nicasio, Francis, Tyler Chatwood, Jeff Manship and Chris Volstad.
“They haven’t said anything yet, we have a lot of guys,” said Francis. “I kind of had “i wish I was there’ feelings. It was a hard decision not to go, I know how much fun, how much passion those guys on Team Canada have, I wish I could have gone.”
Francis said he had a ton of respect for Greg Hamilton, director of national teams, wishing he could have found a way for it to work out.
It was more important for Francis to gain employment for the season rather than pitching one week for Canada.
Signing a four-year $13.25 US million deal in 2007, Francis has been on one-year deals since 2011 and started off last season at triple-A Louisville.
This year he signed for $1.5 million and could earn an additional $1.5 million in performance bonuses.
“I was really proud watching our guys,” Francis said. “I would say Canada is in good shape.”