By Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network
MIAMI _ Around the pens at the rodeo there is a line often used:
“Sometimes you get a bad draw,” as in drawing the rankest, meanest, bull from parts unknown now in captivity.
That was Canada playing the Dominican Republic on Thursday night as the World Baseball Classic opened.
There is another line used on the rodeo circuit: “They say it’s not when you get hurt in bull ridin’ but how bad,” from the movie "8 Seconds" on the life of Lane Frost, 1987 Bull Riding World champ. (Now, Lane Frost was a man who went out with his boots on. R. I. P.)
First Canada had a bad draw -- as the powerful Dominican squad won for the ninth straight and not losing since March 10, 2009 to The Netherlands in extras -- and then they got hurt losing to Columbia 4-1 in a listless affair Saturday afternoon at Marlins Park before 17,209 fans. It was Columbia’s first WBC win. Ever.
Yet despite two losses, Canada heads into Sunday night’s finale still alive. If the Dominican Republic, who rallied late to beat USA Saturday night, beats Colombia, Canada still has a chance if it beats the Americans Sunday night -- by more than three runs for a berth in a Monday tie breaker. LHP Danny Duffy of the Kansas City Royals starts for Team USA.
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Whatever happens Sunday night the 28-man Team Canada roster, all its fans owe a great debt of gratitude of Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista. Bautista charged and caught a line drive off Colombia’s Reynold Rodriguez on the run in the bottom of the ninth. Bautista threw a one hopper to catcher Wellington Castillo, who applied the tag to a sliding Oscar Mercado for the third out of the inning.
Home plate ump Tripp Gibson ejected centre fielder Tito Polo, the prized New York Yankees prospect, and Rodriguez too. Had Mercado scored Colombia would have won 4-3 to make its record 2-1, the same as the Dominican. Team USA would have had a chance to go 2-1, but Canada could only go 1-2 with a win over Team USA. The Dominican scored five in the 11th to maintain its perfect record.
After a scoreless 10th the Dominican scored seven times in the 11th for a 10-3 victory to run its winning streak to 11 in a row.
Now, if Canada beats Team USA it can be in a tie breaker with Colombia and Team USA.
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The Canucks had 14 players in the majors last year. Only five were here: Freddie Freeman, Justin Morneau, Dalton Pompey, Jim Henderson and Andrew Albers.
Columbia had six in the majors last season and all were here: Jorge Alfaro, Dayan Diaz, Tayron Guerrero, Donovan Solano, Jose Quintana and Julio Teheran.
Teheran started for Colombia and worked five innings. After Dalton Pompey bounced out, the next three reached base and Canada was in business with a run on the board and runners at the corners. Except an odd thing happened as Canada tried to tear down Teheran. Freeman was thrown out attempting to steal. “I was safe,” Freeman told reporters. “(Teheran) is 1.70 getting the ball to the plate. We were trying to get two guys (into scoring position), try to put some pressure on them. Obviously the call didn’t go our way.” And then Tyler O’Neill struck out.
Canada didn’t get another base runner until Jamie Romak’s single with two out in the seventh. Teheran set down the final 13 in order. On came Yohan Pino, 2-7 with a 4.63 ERA in 18 starts with the Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals. Pino had a 7.15 ERA in 39 innings with the KT Wiz in the Korea Baseball Organization last year. He allowed the Romak single with the Canucks down 3-1. That's it. That's all.
Facing closer Dayan Diaz, who had a 9.45 ERA in six games with the Cincinnati Reds last year, Justin Morneau and Eric Wood struck out. Freddie Freeman beat out a hit to short right field, Tyler O’Neill singled to left bringing the potential tying run to the plate. Diaz looked to have walked Jamie Romak on a 3-1 pitch, with power threat Josh Naylor on deck. However, Edwin Hernandez signalled a strike and Diaz eventually fanned Romak.
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Nick The Great: RHP Nick Pivetta (Victoria, BC) worked four solid innings for Canada, throwing 50 pitches, 33 for strikes. While manager Ernie Whitt had not seen Ryan Dempster (Gibsons, BC), who started the opener, he has seen plenty of Pivetta. Whitt is a minor league instructor in the Phillies system, while Pivetta was acquired from the Washington Nationals on July 28, 2015 for Jonathan Papelbon.
He is a two-time Canadian Baseball Network Minor League pitcher of the year.
“I really commanded my fastball,” Pivetta told reporters. “I felt like my off-speed wasn’t all there, but I was able to get away with my two-seam, and that helped me a lot and kept those guys – they’re a good hitting team – down to a run, which was good. I would have liked to have gone out there and given up no runs, but keeping them down there, it gave us the fighting chance.
“Once I was on the mound, I was just focused on throwing strikes, getting first-pitch strikes, pitching to contact, trying to keep my pitch limit as low as possible, so I could make the most out of what I’ve been given.
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Y’all come now: In an effort to insert general managers into the WBC excitement commissioner Rob Manfred invited all 15 GMs of the teams training in Florida to visit Marlins Park and watch the Saturday night USA-Dominican Republic sellout.
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Scoring: Colombia made it 4-1 when Scott Mathieson gave up a Jhonathan Solano double and threw a bunt past right field ... Eric Gagne took over for Rowan Wick with two out and the bases loaded in the sixth and walked Mauricio Ramos on five pitches, falling behind 3-0. Wick deserved a better fate as a play was not made on a grounder. Instead of the inning being over Columbia had men on first and second ... Tito Polo, who had 37 steals at class-A Bradenton and West Virginia, singled facing Ryan Kellogg in the sixth and scoring on Donovan Solano’s single ... Columbia tied the score 1-1 in the third as Jhonathan Solano singled and scored on a Donovan Soloano single ... A Justin Morneau walked with one out in the first, Eric Wood followed with a single and Freeman singled into the right field corner.
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The Good: Freeman had a pair of hits ... Nick Pivetta (Victoria, BC) started and worked four innings allowing one run on four singles and a double. Pivetta said he had more emotion in the bullpen than on the mound -- a good sign ... The bases-loaded walk to the first hitter aside, Eric Gagne pitched 2 1/3 scoreless. Gagne appeared in relief 354 times in his 10-year career. Only four times has he worked 2 1/3 innings or more as he did Saturday.
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The Bad: Freeman was out attempting to steal in the first which took Canada out of a possibly big inning. Freeman thought he was safe but second base ump Tripp Gibson’s opinion was the only one that mattered ... Canada is now 1-for-8 hitting with men in scoring position.
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The Ugly: Dalton Pompey stole second in the sixth and did a belly flop/nose dive into the dirt. He landed nose first and was attended by Mike Kozak (Burlington, Ont.), the former Montreal Expos assistant trainer who now works for the Marlins. Pompey was seen bleeding from the nose and Canada followed the concussion protocol Saturday and will again on Sunday to decide if he can play. Pompey missed time when he was at Buffalo when he suffered a concussion diving into foul ground and hitting a wall in Allentown, Pa.
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Welcome back: Eric Gagne, now 41 and nine years removed from his last big league appearance, relieved Rowan Wick with the bases loaded in the sixth and forced in a run with a walk to Jhonatan Solano on a five-pitch walk. Gagne allowed one hit and struck out two in 2 1/3 innings. “He was disappointed that he walked the first guy,” said manager Ernie Whitt. “You never like to see walk a run in but then he bounced back and gave us some strong innings and kept us in the game.”
Gagne had impact on starter Pivetta, who said: “I’ve watched his career. I watched him pitch. You try to get as much information off those guys in such little time. You learn from them — watch what they do, how they go about their business — and you want to have a career like them. You learn from what they have done, from their successes and their failures, so that you can best prepare yourself.”
The former Cy Young Award winner compared his range of emotions from everything from the first day of school to a major-league debut. “I was nervous, scared, I was everything you could think of, the first day of school is exactly that, but that’s why I’m here. I’m a veteran that’s been there. I feel like I’m a closer and that was a closing situation. I just didn’t come through. I’m glad it was me out there. I’m glad it wasn’t one of the young guys. That’s what I’m here for, to teach them: hey, everybody is going to fail. I did everything I could. I just tried to do a little too much. We’re going to learn. We’re going to come back and try to have a better day.”
“I know I can pitch,” said Gagne, whose previous WBC experience was managing France (“against Columbia too”). “Whether I can do it at the major-league level ... maybe I get a chance. I don’t know. Right now I’m having fun with it. There’s a lot of stuff going on but right now it’s Team Canada.”
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Freeway Freddie: Besides having two hits and the only RBI, the donning of the Canadian uniform for the first time was memorable for Freeman. It’s been a pretty special time. This whole week has been pretty great, pretty memorable, especially with my family in the stands. Hopefully we can end it with a win,” Freeman said. “We got off to a good start in the first and Julio just settled down. We thought we were going to be able to get some good things going."
Freeman lost a hit when a third baseman made a diving play of a liner near the right field line. He’s not that fast, but had been shifted into short right.
“Julio’s on that team, so (the shift) didn’t surprise me,” he said. “I’ve never been shifted that big. Obviously when I hit that second one, I definitely thought the ball was down. I didn’t really know there was going to be a guy there. I don’t really look at shifts. I try to see it and hit it and where it goes it goes.
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I recognize him: In the opener, CF Dalton Pompey traced down a Carlos Santana double, relayed to Jonatan Malo, who threw a strike to the plate and George Kottares tagged out Jose Bautista. A few days before at Dunedin, Pompey was saying that the next person to call him Mr. Bautista and asked him to sign ... "he would sign as Jose Bautista.” This night he had a different reaction as he looked at the board: “I saw both our pictures (on the board) after the play at the plate. We do look alike.”
Pompey looks much more like Bautista now that he has a longer beard.
Reading Material: Steve Hummer: Rosemary Freeman’s boy Freddie does her proud ... Ewan Ross: WBC Canada Notebook ... Mike Davies: Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman playing for Team Canada as a tribute to his mother who once lived in Peterborough ... Craig Davis: Solano brothers lead Colombia to first WBC win over Canada