Canada settled some old scores that night in Mexico

By Bob Elliott

There is a line in The Godfather, when Michael Corleone decides it is time to “settle all family business.”

And in a city of 153,000, in a town called Lagos de Moreno in a country south of the border, Mexico, a group of players put on their black and red Under Armour Canadian jerseys and grey pants.

They then went out and settled some old family scores four years ago Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2011.

It was an off day before Game 6 of the World Series ... one called the greatest ever: David Freese tripled with two out in the ninth to tie the score against the Texas Rangers, Josh Hamilton homered in the 10th as each team scored twice and Freese won it with a homer in the 11th.

Yet in Mexico the Canadians would have a different answer for the best ever:
Canada edged Team USA 2-1 as lefty Andrew Albers pitched 6 2/3 innings, while Scott Richmond worked the final 2 1/3, striking out three for the save to win gold.

With 13 games of double-A experience, Albers faced a USA lineup of Jordan Danks, A.J. Pollock, Joe Thurston, Brett Carroll, Matthew Clark, Jody Mercer, Chad Tracy, Thomas Mendonca and Tuffy Gosewich. 
Canada had never finished first in an international event outside of the 1991 World Juniors. It wasn’t like there were not near misses.

The sang O Canada, changed into their track suits and sang again with USA on one side and Cuba on the other.
* * *
Manager Ernie Whitt thought of Winnipeg.

Whitt made his managing debut at the 1999 Pan Ams for the princely sum of a plane ticket, meal money and a hotel room.
Canada finished with a 6-1 at Winnipeg when the team gripped the nation, but finished third and failed to qualify for the Olympics, despite beating both Cuba and the USA, the two Olympic qualifiers.

Whitt recalled the times over the years the Canadians stood listening to the Cuban or USA anthems. 

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Shawn Hill, who pitched the semi-final decision over host Mexico and work five innings in the opener against Puerto Rico thought of Athens in 2008.

Hill turned a 3-2 lead over to the bullpen in the semi-final game against Cuba. A win and Canada would meet Australia for gold. Hill was removed due to the Montreal Expos pitch restrictions. The Expos are long gone and Hill starts Monday against Nicaragua.

In Athens there was a clank a few hits, a comeback and then Kevin Nicholson’s pinch-hit bid for extra bases into a stiff breeze, a ball that died at the wall for the final out.

We’ll never forget the Cuban third baseman hanging his head … he thought the ball was gone.

Hill recalled how in Athens how theme music from Zorba the Greek was played often between innings. They played it during the gold medal game in Mexico. Hill turned to Mike Johnson, saying it was “a little bit of redemption.”

Was the music a good omen? Well, Lagos de Moreno is known as the “Athens of Jalisco” due to the numerous writers and poets born there.
* * *
Richmond thought of the 2009 World Baseball Classic at the Rogers Centre.

He was the best bullet, national teams director Greg Hamilton manager and Whitt had. Canada had to win two games in pool play and was expected to lose to Team USA and beat Italy. Venezuela was a jump ball. They elected to save Canada’s best for Game 3. Johnson pitched well as Canada was edged in a one-run game before an electric crowd in a 5-4 loss at the Rogers Centre, but Canada eliminated losing to Italy 7-2.

Richmond got back on the plane to Dunedin without throwing a pitch.

And he was promoted to the Blue Jays -- missing the 2008 Bejing Olympics. He was at triple-A Syracuse by the team Canada faced Team USA.
* * *
Johnson thought of Athens, where he was a member of Canada’s rotation.

In Athens Canada was so close to getting to the gold medal game to face Australia, upset 1-0 winners over Japan in the other semi final.

As Pan Am medals were handed out two players remained on the podium. Johnson asked Hill if he could go last.
Johnson then thanked Whitt, pitching coach Denis Boucher, third base coach Tim Leiper, coach Greg Hamilton, business manager Bernie Soulliere and equipment manager Keith (Critter) Sanford.

Most had been in Athens and all experienced the pain of losing somewhere.
* * *
Pitching coach Boucher remembered Cuba and the 2006 WBC where Canada was supposed to beat South Africa, lose to Team USA and beat Mexico. Canada squeaked past South Africa, upset Team USA, lost to Mexico and failed to advance -- the only 2-1 team eliminated on run differential.

* * *
Hamilton thought of the loss to Cuba in Athens, a game he called it the country’s “most painful loss” and snuck a peak at Johnson and Hill on the bench in the ninth.
* * *
Winnipeg in 1999, Athens in 2004, Phoenix in 2006, Toronto in 2009 and Phoenix in 2013 when Canada lost a late lead to the USA in the WBC.

While the outings were not erased from the memory banks of those who wore represented Canada, a gold medal can ease memories.

After years of listening to other anthems, close calls, not so close, the Canadians stood on the podium and sang.

“I don’t know who the best singer was, it sure wasn’t me,” said Richmond, “but it sure felt good.”

Bob ElliottComment