Canucks repeat as Pan Am gold medal winners
By Bob Elliott
AJAX _ What a time for a snowball fight to break out.
And you can’t beat a Canadian in a snowball fight.
Down to its final two outs with runners on first and second in the 10th when Canada scored the tying and winning run without so much as putting bat on ball as two wild throws and a third one unfolded.
Wild and crazy stuff.
Team USA lefty David Huff tried a back-door pick off play at first, it looked headed for Whitby before it hit the fence in foul ground. Third base coach Stubby Clapp waved Skyler Stromsoe home from second.
The throw from right field went to third ... and over third.
Clapp, kept his arms waving like a wind mill and waved Peter Orr home too.
The ball beat Orr, but his head first slide knocked the ball loose to give Canada a 7-6 win in front a sold out crowd of 5,489, including Blue Jays president Paul Beeston and his wife Kaye.
“I’ve been coaching international ball for 15 years and every year you come home after a trip and say ‘I’ve never seen anything like that,” said pitching coach Denis Boucher. “Well, I’ve never seen anything like that.”
Team USA looked as if it was going to win its second gold at the Pan Am games and first since 1967. Instead No. 6 6 ranked Canada in the world rankings, won its second in four years.
Four years ago down in Lagos de Moreno, Mex., Canada edged Team USA 2-1 to win a first-ever Pan Am Games gold.
And Sunday night out in Ajax what happened down in Mexico ... happened again. They took the field hopping over the dugout fence as if making a line change on the fly.
Before the medal ceremonies searched around second base for a Lucky Loonie. Clapp had planted one there on Canada’s first work out day. It’s a tradition he began as a player at Chase Field during the first World Baseball Classic ... even if he has to borrow the toonie or the looney.
They may have been lucky coins planted under each base and home plate.
Under international rules each team started extras inning with runners on first and second with the manager allowed to pick what spot in his lineup would be up.
“Everyone in the dugout, understood international rules,” said Jeff Francis, who pitched a strong seven innings, “I could hear a murmur from the fans when each inning began. People didn’t know what was going on when the runners went out to start the inning.
“It was a shame for a well-played game to end like that.”
USA’s Jim Tracy chose lead-off man Travis Jankowski bunt the runners over and Canadian skipper Ernie Whitt walked Andy Parrino intentionally.
Tyler Pastornicky, a former Blue Jays draft pick, hit a two-run double to left off Chris Leroux, who had two dominant starts and was working one inning on two days rest.
Then, Canada’s turn in this shoot-out way to decide gold.
Asked to bunt Sean Jamieson fouled off two pitches against Jake Barrett before bunting a third attempt foul. One out and things looked glum.
Tracy then went to lefty Huff. Orr blooped the first pitch into centre and Tyson Gillies scored, barely beating a throw home.
Then it went from crazy to bizarre.
“I said ‘Pete we’re going see O’Neill hit one in the gap and then, we’ll see how fast you can really run,’” said first base coach Larry Walker. “I’d told him I’d beat him to home plate ... and run right past him to congratulate the other coaches. Well, that’s what happened, sort of ...”
Huff threw the ball into foul ground in right, Right fielder Brian Bogusevic heaved the ball into foul ground behind left and then third baseman Pastoricky threw a one hopper to the plate. Orr slid and the ball came loose.
“For some reason they decide to run a pick on me,” said Orr, “that’s an awful tough way for a team to loose.”
There was a dog pile at home plate on deck hitter Jordan Lennerton and O’Neill, along with Stromsoe and as Francis said later “everyone ran as fast as they ever have in their life.”
When the three flags were raised near the first-base dugout Walker hugged Clapp -- a big ‘un and a little ‘un, two fircely proud Canadians, one dabbing his eyes -- as the Canadian flag rose highest, with the Stars and Stripes on one side, the Cuban flag on the other.
For the first time ever we heard the playing Bruce Spingsteen’s “Born in the USA” booed in the seventh team. The Canadian women’s baseball team started booing -- nothing against the Boss, but there was a medal on the line.
After Oh Canada was played the D.J. bounced back strong with Neil Young’s Heart of Gold.
“We were down 5-1 to Cuba and won, everything that Cuba felt in their dugout Saturday is what we felt in our dugout tonight,” said Tracy, who managed Paul Quantrill with the Los Angeles Dodgers and was a coach when Walker was with the Montreal Expos. He also he said he had respect for Whitt.
While some teams were pimping home runs -- going deep and signaling or the bullpen on their way to first -- planting a Puerto Rico flag near the mound (“Not in My country,” said Clapp, who has the loudest snap of the tourney) and bench jockeying ... the USA and Canucks got along.
In the lead-in to extras, Canada scored four straight times after being down 3-0. Rene Tosoni hit a three-run homer to right to tie the game in the third turing around a 93 mph fastball carrying the fence in right centre. It was his first homer of the tourney.
The red and white went up 4-3 in the fifth when Orr singled, stole second, went to third on a wild throw and scored on a Lennerton fly ball.
The red, white and blue evened the score when Patrick Kivlehan doubled to left and one out later scored on a Albert Almora single.
Kivlehan hit a two-run wind-blown homer off Francis an 0-1 pitch into the bullpen in the second and Parrino double, an infield hit and a fly ball in the third put USA up 3-0.
O’Neill hit a drive into the teeth of the wind -- blowing out to right field early, and blowing in later in the night -- but if was caught at the track for the third out of the bottom of the ninth forcing extras.
Francis, 34, was making his first start of the tournament after starting seven times at triple-A Buffalo.
He worked seven innings allowing four runs on eight hits and a walk, while striking out seven.
He fared much better than the 2006 World Baseball Classic in Phoenix. He threw 36 pitches and retired four men against Mexico. After retiring the first two hitters on two pitches he hit Vinny Castilla with a pitch and the crowd of 15,744 booed lustily.
What followed was not pretty: Eurbiel Durazoa, Geromino Gil, L.A. Garcia, Miguel Ojeda and L.C. Garcia all doubled, while Jorge Cantu homered.
Francis left after 1 1/3 innings allowing six runs on six hits and a walk
This time Francis was big-game Boomer with his mother, wife and children watching. His former North Delta Blue Jays coach was in town, but could not obtain a ticket.
This time Francis headed for the bus with a gold medal around his neck.
Lefty Andrew Albers, who pitched 6 2/3 innings in the gold medal game four years ago, worked a scoreless eighth and ninth stranding a runner each inning and he recorded the first out of the 10th before Leroux came on in relief.
Canada threatened in the first against lefty Josh Hader as Sean Jamieson and Orr’s comebacker was misplayed at second. Josh Hader popped up O’Neill, struck out Lennerton and did the same to Brock Kjeldgaard after hitting Tosoni to load the bases.
Hader, 21, ranked the 10th best prospect in the Houston Astros organization, is 3-3 with a 3.23 ERA in 16 games -- nine starts -- at double-A Corpus Christi. He’s walked 23 and struck out 63 in 61 1/3 innings. This season he was clocked at 98 mph as a reliever,
Singer Toby Keith is usually accurate with his lyrics about life.
Like his “What happens down in Mexico stays in Mexico” hit.
Four years ago down in Mexico Canada won its first-ever Pan Am Games gold.
And Sunday night out in Ajax what happened down in Mexico ... happened again.